Strike cripples public transport

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The Independent Online

Thousands of public sector workers across France began a 24-hour strike last night, bringing the threat of chaos to the rail network and airports.

The state rail company, SNCF, said only 46 of its 700 high-speed TGV trains would run normally. Cross-channel Eurostar trains and international services were also hit. Public transport in Paris was facing severe disruption, with unions predicting a 25 per cent service or less on many Métro, train, bus and tram lines.

The walkout, which began at 8pm, was set to last a day but some unions have called for it to be extended until tomorrow or even Saturday, when thousands of English rugby fans will be trying to get to Paris for the World Cup Final.

Unions called the strike in protest against government plans to scrap the "special regime" pension system for 500,000 workers in state-run companies. It includes staff at SNCF, the electricity company EDF, miners and members of parliament. Only six per cent of pensions fall under the special regime, which allows beneficiaries to retire after 37.5 years worked, compared with 40 years for other public and private sector employees.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, who vowed during his election campaign to improve workers' rights, has said the special scheme is outdated and unfair and will cost the public purse £3.48bn this year.

But while M. Sarkozy will be away today at the EU summit in Portugal, ten of millions of his compatriots will be struggling to get to work and school.

The Paris transport authority RATP said traffic would be "virtually nil" on most of its lines and "nearly paralysed" on the national rail network.

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