Electricity workers leave France in the dark over sell-off plans

Workers at France's state-owned electric utility caused brief power cuts yesterday throughout the country to protest against the conservative government's plans to sell off part of the company.

The action came as thousands of employees at Electricité de France and Gaz de France, the gas company, marched through Paris to press the government to drop its privatisation plans.

Unions fear that plans to float parts of the utilities on the stock market will lead to full privatisation, although the government has promised to retain majority stakes.

Electricity was shut down for about half-an-hour at some offices in the La Défense business district on the capital's western edge, a spokesman for Electricité de France (EDF) said.

Overnight, street lamps were turned off in parts of suburban Paris, while street lighting was shut down during the daylight hours in parts of western and southern France.

The movement also cut back production of electricity at some power plants, including nuclear facilities, which posed no security hazards and had no effect on consumers, the EDF spokesman said. The company said it was able to make up for the slack by using back-up plants.

The Communist-backed CGT union said that about 75 per cent of the utilities' staff stayed off work yesterday, while management put the figure at 45 per cent. In Paris, union leaders said at least 50,000 workers marched to the gilded-domed Invalides monument on the Left Bank.

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