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Changing Tack, French Militants Turn off Power to Press Government

FILE - A logo of Groupe ADP (Aeroports de Paris) is seen at Orly Airport near Paris, Dec. 9, 2019.

Opening another front in their battle against the French government, union militants said they cut power to thousands of Parisians on Tuesday, plunging homes into darkness and closing down train services to one of the capital's two main airports.

The deliberate outage lasted around two hours and hit users in the southern suburbs of Paris, said Franck Jouanno, a local leader of the leftist CGT union. That area includes the Orly international airport and the massive Rungis market that supplies food to the Paris region. Jouanno said militants targeted the area because it is one of "the economic lungs of Europe."

"It's symbolic," Jouanno said of the power cut, speaking in a telephone interview. "It made a buzz and that's what everyone wants."

The CGT is pushing for a complete withdrawal of the French government's plans to overhaul the country's pension system. The planned reforms have triggered six weeks of protests and crippling transport strikes.

But with many striking transport workers now returning to work, and train services largely restored in Paris and nationwide, militants are looking for other methods to keep up the pressure on President Emmanuel Macron and his centrist government.

Jouanno described the Paris households that lost power when families were stating their day as "collateral damage."

"It bothers me, but unfortunately there is always an impact and a power cut isn't the end of the world," he told broadcaster BFM-TV.

The outage cut power to the automated shuttle train that serves Orly airport. The shuttle's operator, the RATP, said thousands of users were impacted and that it "firmly condemns this act of malice." Buses were used to transport passengers to the airport instead.

At the Rungis market, generators took over and maintained power during the outage.

Julien Denormandie, a deputy minister, condemned the power cut as "scandalous, irresponsible."

Macron, who is trying to blend scores of separate pension systems and rules into a universal French pension, says his plan will be fairer to all French workers and will be sustainable as the country ages. Transit workers, who now can sometimes retire earlier than the official age of 62, don't want to lose their special privileges and French workers in general fear the government will raise the pension age.

Macron's government will present the pension reform bill to the Cabinet on Friday ahead of a debate in parliament next month.