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Trains cancelled and schools shut amid strike across France

Workers have walked out in protest at plans for a higher retirement age.

Protesters march in Marseille (AP)
Protesters march in Marseille (AP)

By Associated Press Reporter

Teachers, doctors, lawyers and workers at the Eiffel Tower are among people from across France who have walked out in protest at plans for a higher retirement age.

The strikers also want to preserve a welfare system they fear their business-friendly president wants to dismantle.

Thousands of workers lit red flares and marched beneath union flags through French cities from Brittany on the Atlantic to the Pyrenees in the south to oppose President Emmanuel Macron’s overhaul of the French pension system.

Commuters and tourists faced a 13th straight day of traffic headaches as train drivers kept up their strike against President Emmanuel Macron’s overhaul of a pension system that allows them to retire as early as their fifties.

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The demonstrators’ poster of Emmanuel Macron reads: “Ain’t you finish with this project?” (AP)

Parents faced closed schools and students had key exams cancelled as teachers joined in the strike.

Hospitals requisitioned workers to ensure key services, as nurses, doctors and pharmacists went on strike to save a once-vaunted public hospital system that is struggling after years of cost cutting.

Police barricaded Mr Macron’s Elysee Palace hours ahead of a new protest through the capital, bracing for potential violence by yellow vest activists or other radical demonstrators angry over economic injustice.

Pressure is mounting on Mr Macron after the key architect of his pension overhaul resigned on Monday over alleged conflicts of interest.

So far, his government is sticking to plans to raise the retirement age to 64, though it made concessions last week by delaying the roll-out of the reform, and opened the door for new negotiations.

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Dock workers raise their fists during a march in Marseille (AP)

Government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye said: “The reform remains… we will not withdraw it.”

Several European countries have raised the retirement age or cut pensions in recent years to keep up with lengthening life expectancy and slowing economic growth. Mr Macron argues that France needs to do the same.

Unions fear people will have to work longer for lower pensions, and polls suggest at least of half of French people still support the strike.

Frustration is building, however. Only two of the 16 lines on the Paris subway ran normally on Tuesday, and only a quarter of the high-speed trains that crisscross the country. International lines were also affected.

Unions at the SNCF rail authority want to keep the strike going through the Christmas holidays, and the government is scrambling for solutions.

PA

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