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French Demonstrations Against Retirement Reform Bill Gets Smaller

Vaccination is an important part of prevention
Vaccination is an important part of prevention

French Police say a half million people took to the streets in more than 270 demonstrations across the country Thursday, a continuation of the protests and strikes in opposition to a new bill that would raise the minimum retirement age to 62. A majority of the French oppose the bill and are trying to convince President Nicolas Sarkozy not to sign it into law.

The French came out into the streets to protest, for the seventh time in two months. This demonstration in the southern city of Marseille, like all the others, in protest of the government's retirement reform bill. It would raise the minimum retirement age two years to 62. Patrick Parra, is with the Confédération française démocratique du travail, or CFDT Union.

It is the first time that a law of this importance abandons social advantages, he says and says it's a signal we have to keep up a strong mobilization. Parra says we perhaps can't continue strikes and street protests as large as in recent days but we have to keep up a strong mobilization for our pensions.

Both French legislatures have already passed the bill raising the minimum retirement age and the president is expected to sign it into law next month, but opponents say they will keep protesting and striking.

At Paris' Orly airport, strikes forced the cancellation of half of the flights from here. Inconvenienced passengers aren't sure this will change anything.

"Strikes always make things move, he says but my point of view is that it will not make the reform change," said Lair Damien of the northern French town of Caen.

"I can see that the people have a point being on strike, that they have a good cause for it, said Iana Kolassam, another passenger, from Germany. "But of course it is not easy for the other people like today with the flights and the trains and everything, it is difficult."

Blockades at fuel depots and strikes at refineries mean a fifth of France's gas stations are dry, or rationing gas. The government says the shortage is easing, but many French citizens oppose the blockade.

Police say just over half a million people took to the streets Thursday, about half of the number that demonstrated last week. It's unclear if that's because support for the protests is waning or because this is a vacation week in France. The Unions have called for another day of mass demonstrations after the vacation is over and on a Saturday, November 6.