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French Civil Servants March Over Pension Reform

 Reuters, May 19, 2003

PARIS - French trade unions, divided over government plans to reform the state pension system, launched new strikes Monday that hit electricity output, schools and hospitals, though public transport ran normally.

In Paris, some 100,000 protesters braved the rain to march against reforms that will push back the retirement age of many French workers from 60 at present, organizers said. Police estimates put the figure at 38,000.

The Education Ministry said half of primary and nursery school teachers and around 40 percent of other teachers joined the walkout across the country, forcing school closures. Action by energy workers slashed French power exports by 30 percent.

The large FDT union and the smaller CFE-CGC approved the pension reforms last week after winning government concessions.

But five other unions, including the Communist-led CGT, have threatened wildcat strikes and a national day of protests on May 25 against plans to make people pay more and for longer into the state pension system to avoid a funding crunch.

Postal workers, central bank employees and workers from state-controlled France Telecom joined Monday's strike.

The opposition Socialists vowed at their congress at the weekend to reverse the reforms if they return to power and gave their blessing to the May 25 protests. But the Organization for Economic Cooperation Development (OECD) international think tank said Monday that even if the proposed reforms were passed they would not be enough in themselves to rescue the pension system.

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