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Protests to reignite as pension bill approved

France's parliament granted final approval yesterday to a bill raising the retirement age from 60 to 62, a reform that has infuriated the country's powerful unions and touched off weeks of protests and strikes.

The 336-233 vote in the National Assembly was a victory for conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has stood firm despite the protests -- a stance that has resulted in his lowest approval ratings since he took office in 2007.

The opposition Socialist party, which spearheaded the parliamentary battle against the bill, called its passage "a great disappointment for the French people, who overwhelmingly rejected this . . . profoundly unfair text".

Protesters aren't giving up the fight, since Mr Sarkozy hasn't yet signed the bill. In an attempt to revive a protest movement that has lost momentum, unions plan a new nationwide day of street demonstrations and strikes today, which are expected to cause travel problems.


France's civil aviation authority says today's strikes mean airlines must cancel a third of their flights at Charles de Gaulle, Paris's main airport, and half their flights at the smaller Orly airport south of the capital.

A two-week train strike has been tapering off, and only a small number of trains were to be cancelled today.

Some striking refinery workers have returned to the job, but French drivers are facing substantial fuel shortages. As of Tuesday evening, about one petrol station in five was still closed.

Striking dock workers have exacerbated the fuel shortages. Oil tankers are lined up in the Mediterranean as far as the eye can see off the port of Marseille, waiting to unload.

Unions see retirement at 60 as a cornerstone of France's generous social benefit system, but the conservative government says the entire pension system is in jeopardy without the reform because French people now have longer lifespans.

"The vigour of the debate was legitimate, but everyone must now accept the law," Prime Minister Francois Fillon said.

Irish Independent