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UPDATED: French Senate Will Vote Wednesday On Pres. Sarkozy's Retirement Plan

Helen Tobin, Cynthia Balderas |
October 19, 2010 | 9:05 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter, Associate News Editor

A riot officer stands by a fire during riots that broke out in downton Lyon, France Tuesday morning (M&C News - Oliver Chassignole)
A riot officer stands by a fire during riots that broke out in downton Lyon, France Tuesday morning (M&C News - Oliver Chassignole)

UPDATED 4:40 p.m. PDT: French senators will vote as soon as Wednesday to approve President Nicolas Sarkozy's plan to raise the retirement age as fuel shortages resulting from strikes worsened and some protestors turned violent. 

Sarkozy's plan will bring France closer to the United States and Germany, which are moving toward increasing the full-retirement age to 62.

Sarkozy said at a press conference in Deauville, France, “This reform had been postponed for too long and the deadline couldn’t be push further anymore. I hope that everyone stays calm so that things don’t go beyond certain limits. We cannot live without gasoline. I will see to it with the security forces that public order is guaranteed.”

UPDATED 2:00 p.m. PDT: French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday that order would return to the nation short on fuel supplies and high on "troublemakers."

Workers around France have launched radical and fiery protests against his plan to fix the country's pension crises by increasing the retirement age from 60 to 62. The parliament is expected to vote on the issue in about a week.

“I understand the anxiety,” Mr. Sarkozy said, according to the New York Times. “In a democracy, everyone can express themselves, but they must do so without violence and without excesses.”

The French Interior Ministry estimated slightly more than a million protestors turned out Monday, disrupting the lives of France's 62 million inhabitants. Nearly a third of the nation's gas stations are without fuel because of strikes by truckers and blockades by students.

UPDATED: 10:48 a.m. PDT: In wake of the protests against proposed pension changes, young french protestors turned up the heat Tuesday by confronting riot police and setting fires throughout the country, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Nearly 850 schools reported class boycotts and hundreds of students were arrested as they burned cars, smashed bus shelters, and threw rocks at police. The protests stem from President Nicholas Sarkozy’s proposed plan to raise the country’s minimum retirement age from 60 to 62 in an effort to reduce the deficit and combat an ageing population.  

Protests will continue Tuesday, marking the sixth day of demonstrations over planned pension reform since September 7. French officials estimated that 480,000 people took to the streets across the country Tuesday, down from 500,000 last week, but labor unions put the figures much higher. Previous protests have been nonviolent, but the latest reports include scuffles between rock-throwing youth and police firing tear-gas.  

Young protestors have joined garbage workers, truck drivers, refinery workers and others already on strike.  The teenagers say they fear for their future, argue that reform will mean fewer jobs for young people as ageing employees are unable to leave their posts for a new generation. 

"We have a very clear idea about this reform, contrary to what it is said. So, it was quite normal to join the protest,” Julianne Charton with the National Union of Secondary Schools told a French TV channel. “We are concerned for our future, our anger is legitimate." 

Union leaders have vowed to keep up pressure until the government retreats from reform. Administrations in 1995 and 2006 caved to protestors when proposed changes to tax and labor laws were confronted with similar outrage and rioting.  

A great deal of the population is already feeling the effects of nearly a week of continuous strikes by workers, especially an eight-day strike at oil refineries.  Despite government assurances, fear of gasoline shortages led motorists to rush to fill up their tanks, causing many gas stations to temporarily run dry.  

At airports across the country, nearly a third of flights have been delayed or cancelled as a result of a walkout by air traffic controllers.  Flight schedules are expected to return to normal on Wednesday, but officials may reduce the number of flights to Paris in an effort to avoid fuel shortages. 

The Senate was scheduled to vote on the pension overhaul Wednesday, but proposed amendments by the opposition will push the vote back to Thursday or Friday.  Sarkozy expects the reform to pass, saying it his duty to enact these changes, and he promised to ensure the fuel supply.  

“I understand the worries,” he said. “In a democracy, everyone may express themselves, but they should do it without violence or excesses.” 

He added that a “certain number of troublemakers” had joined the protests. 

“I will ensure with the forces of order that public order is guaranteed,” Mr. Sarkozy said. “That is my duty, too.”

The government has made a few compromises, such as setting lower retirement ages for several laborious or grueling jobs, and allowing people who start working before 18 to maintain right to an early retirement.  These measures have done little to quell the strikers, who could continue striking after the reform is passed. 

"We are pacifists,” said Hugo Behar, 16, in Paris. “We just want to be heard.”   


To read more check out the "Los Angeles Times" and "French Tribune."


To reach reporter Helen Tobin, click here. Follow her on Twitter @HelenTobin.

To reach Associate Editor Cynthia Balderas, click here. Follow her on Twitter @CVBalderas.

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