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Sarkozy vows to hold firm on reform

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed to continue with his changes to the pension system and unions promptly announced new national strikes.

A day after more than a million people took to the streets in protest Mr Sarkozy said it was "out of the question" to give up on the plan to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.

With baby boomers reaching retirement age and life expectancy on the rise, the government insists the rise is necessary, so the money-draining pension system can break even by 2018.

The reform is seen as a cornerstone of Mr Sarkozy's political agenda and a key test for the French leader ahead of 2012 presidential elections.

Unions said it was a threat to hard-won social benefits and want the reform drastically scaled back. Mobilised by yesterday's protests, six leading unions met today and announced new nationwide strikes and demonstrations for September 23.

Mr Sarkozy conceded the government's willingness to negotiate on smaller details of the reform, including measures for the disabled and people in physically difficult professions.

The reform is "a lasting and just response that will allow us to save our pension system," a government spokesman said.

He added that Labour Minister Eric Woerth has been charged with amending the bill to reflect the small changes, which is to be voted on by the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, next week.

Union leaders called Tuesday's strike a major success.

It forced the closure of schools and jammed traffic throughout the country as more than 1.1 million people demonstrated.

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