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French Pension Strikes Expand          12/10 06:10

   PARIS (AP) -- French airport employees, teachers and other workers joined 
nationwide strikes Tuesday as unions cranked up pressure on the government to 
scrap upcoming changes to the country's national retirement system.

   As the strike entered a sixth straight day, commuters and tourists in Paris 
used used apps, shared bikes and creativity to find ways to get to work, school 
and museums.

   Many French commuters still express support for the strike, fearing their 
own pensions will shrink under President Emmanuel Macron's new plan. But some 
admitted their patience is wearing thin with the transportation woes, and with 
train workers who are striking to keep their right to retire years earlier than 
other workers.

   Paris police ordered shops and restaurants closed on boulevards around the 
gold-domed Invalides monument, fearing violence on the fringes of what 
government opponents hope is another mass march Tuesday afternoon. At least 
800,000 people turned out for demonstrations around France when the strike 
movement kicked off last Thursday.

   Protests were being held around the country Tuesday, with union activists 
waving red flags from Marseille on the Mediterranean to Lille in the north.

   Unions fear Macron's retirement reform will force people to work longer for 
smaller pensions, even though the government says it won't raise the official 
retirement age of 62.

   Nationwide,  only about a fifth of French trains ran normally Tuesday, 
frustrating tourists who found train stations empty and trains canceled. Most 
Paris subways were at a halt, and just one bus in three was running normally. 
Paris roads were jammed with traffic.

   Some commuters used ride-sharing apps or stayed with friends and family near 
their offices. Others dusted off old bicycles, tested electric scooters for the 
first time or walked several miles to avoid sitting in traffic-choked 

   "Usually it takes me 1 hour and 10 minutes (to get to work), but today I 
left home at 8 a.m. and it's already 10 a.m. and I'm still not at work yet," 
said commuter Nabil Nouali, disembarking from a tram on the edge of Paris after 
coming from the suburbs. 

   "I understand the situation, (retirement reform) concerns us all," he told 
The Associated Press. "But at the same time, it penalizes all the people who 
have to go to work and don't have a car."

   Air France, the national carrier, said more than 25% of its domestic traffic 
was grounded Tuesday by the strike, along with more than 10% of its 
medium-range flights, on the orders of the French civil aviation authority.

   About half of Paris schools were closed and others had many classes 

   Overall the number of striking workers is lower than last week, and the 
strike may fizzle after the government releases long-awaited details of the 
retirement plan Wednesday.

   The strikes are a big test for Macron, who promised to reform France's 
retirement system while campaigning for president in 2017. 

   He has ordered two years of consultations with workers and employers about 
the new system, which aims to blend 42 separate retirement plans into one. 

   Macron argues that the reform is needed to keep the pension system from 
sinking into billions of euros of debt as life spans lengthen, and to make it 
more universally fair to all workers, not just those in certain professions.

   Unions, however, fear the pension changes are part of a broader mission to 
dismantle hard-won worker protections.


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