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Reforms: French pension bill clears first hurdle

France's National Assembly passed President Nicolas Sarkozy's controversial pension reform bill by 329 votes to 233 during a stormy session in the lower house.

The bill will raise the minimum pension age to 62 by 2018, and unions have vowed to stage mass protests when the law goes before France's upper house, the Senate, on September 23.

Last week, trade unions staged a one-day national strike and managed to attract between one and three million demonstrators onto the streets of more than 100 towns and cities.

But the president's supporters insist the reform's key measure will save the state pension fund €70bn.