Sunday, 17 October 2010

All Together - Millions on Streets in France

Hundreds of thousands of people marched in cities across France on Saturday in the latest protests against President Nicolas Sarkozy's flagship pension reform.

Government estimates put the total number of protesters at around 850,000, while unions said between 2.5 million and 3 million had taken to the streets.

The French president is determined to stand firm on his plans to raise the retirement age, but unions have staged weeks of nationwide demonstrations to try to force him to back down. Five-day-old rail and refinery strikes are piling pressure on the government by disrupting travel.

Public and private sector employees and students marched in dozens of cities, with the biggest crowd assembling in Paris. The mood was upbeat, with disco music blaring, horns honking and chants of "All Together."

“The government must back down or things will get ugly, they warn,” said FRANCE 24’s Aurore Dupuis, covering the event in Paris.

France's powerful trade unions were hoping for a similar turnout to their last weekend rally on Oct. 2, which they said drew nearly 3 million people nationwide, though police estimates were lower.

"We have several million people in the street who support us and believe in us," said CFDT union leader François Chérèque, at the main protest in Paris. "The only one blocking the country is the government."

Five straight days of strikes over the unpopular reform have cut train services and grounded flights. Walkouts at oil refineries have hit supply at nearly 2 percent of France's petrol stations. Officials at Roissy Charles de Gaulle, the main Paris airport, say fuel supplies there could run out by Monday evening.


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