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France pension reform strikes bring country to a standstill



French schools, airports and trains will face heavy disruption Tuesday for the sixth time this year, as unions galvanize people nationwide in protest against government plans to raise the retirement age for most workers.

Paris is expected to bear the brunt of the protests, with most lines on the metro running only at the busiest times, according to the city’s transport agency RATP. The main education trade union FSU said Sunday that 120 schools would close for the day and 60% of primary school teachers would be on strike in the French capital.

France’s civil aviation authority, meanwhile, has asked airlines to reduce scheduled flights by 20% and 30% at Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports in Paris respectively. Air France said about 20% of short-haul flights would be canceled, but long-haul services would be maintained. The airline cautioned, however, that “last-minute delays and cancellations cannot be ruled out.”

National railway operator SNCF said very few regional trains would operate and that four out of five trains on the TGV, France’s intercity high-speed rail service, would be canceled.

Unions and opposition parties are encouraging people to protest in the country’s main cities, hoping to “bring France to a halt.”

Philippe Martinez, secretary general of the CGT, the biggest French union, said in an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche Sunday that unions “are moving up a gear” and he expected “that the mobilizations will continue and grow until the government listens to workers.”

France has endured a series of strikes this year, as workers rail against President Emmanuel Macron’s planned pension reforms. The reforms will gradually increase the age at which most French citizens can draw a state pension to 64, from 62.

A record 1.3 million people took part in demonstrations on January 19, which brought the country to a standstill and shuttered the Eiffel Tower to visitors.

The government has said the pension legislation is necessary to tackle a funding deficit, but the reforms have angered workers at a time when living costs are rising.

The legislation is currently before French lawmakers, with a vote on the final version of the text expected later this month.

If there is no support from opposition lawmakers, Macron’s government could turn to Article 49.3 of the French constitution, a mechanism it has used several times already to push through budget-related bills without putting them to a parliamentary vote.

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