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Workers Protest Across France

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Published: March 19, 2009

PARIS — France’s airports, trains and utilities were hit by work stoppages on Thursday, as unions mobilized against President Nicolas Sarkozy’s economic policies and his government’s response to the global recession.

Protesters marched in the streets of France’s biggest cities — Paris, Marseille and Lyon — in fine spring weather, in the second major strike in two months.

An estimated 2.6 million people joined 213 demonstrations across France, according to the Confédération Générale du Travail, one of the nation’s largest unions. The national police, however, put the number of protesters at 1.2 million.

The largest unions said in a statement that Mr. Sarkozy’s response to the financial crisis had been inadequate, and they called on the government to do more to safeguard jobs and to improve workers’ purchasing power.

“Salaried workers won’t any longer accept being the victims of this crisis, which they had nothing to do with,” said Bernard Thibault, secretary of the workers’ confederation, BFM Radio reported.

Mr. Sarkozy, who was in Brussels at a European Union meeting, did not comment on the demonstrations.

Although France has a long tradition of strikes and demonstrations by public unions, the protesters who marched on Thursday and during similar protests on Jan. 29 came from both the public and private sectors, union officials said. Some union leaders called the protests in late January, in which they said an estimated 2.5 million people had participated, the largest nationwide demonstrations in 20 years.

But some political analysts played down the potential effect of the strike. “I don’t think it’s going to have a concrete political impact,” said Zaki Laïdi, a professor of political science at the Institut d’Études Politiques in Paris.

France faces mounting dissatisfaction amid rising unemployment. French companies shed the most jobs in 40 years during the fourth quarter of last year.

Faced with expectations that the economy will sharply contract this year, Mr. Sarkozy announced a $35 billion economic stimulus plan in December. But he has held back from proposing additional broad measures, apart from support for the auto industry and banks.

According to the Education Ministry, about 30 percent of France’s teachers were on strike Thursday. Utilities, ports and refineries were also disrupted. Air France said most of its flights were operating normally from Charles de Gaulle Airport, while about one-third of its flights from Orly Airport had been canceled.

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

March 20, 2009 at 4:10 am

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