Wave of strikes hits France

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The Independent Online

France faces a week of disruption from transport and public sector strikes as unions wage a number of separate campaigns against President Nicolas Sarkozy's labour reforms.

Hundreds of domestic and international flights were cancelled for a third day on yesterday as Air France (AIRF.PA) pilots pursued a four-day strike, due to end late today.

Travel chaos could spread to the railways tomorrow when train drivers stage the first of two strikes called by separate unions within days of each other over freight sector reforms.

On Thursday, demonstrations by teachers over budget cuts threaten school closures and on Saturday, postal workers say they will strike for a day over partial privatisation plans.

The head of one of France's biggest unions, CGT leader Bernard Thibault, urged Sarkozy to pay the same attention to workers' demands as he and other world leaders have devoted to finding a solution to the financial crisis.

"It is urgent to tackle the social situation," Thibault told France Info radio.

Sarkozy is due to return to Paris on today or tomorrow after a private visit to New York following the weekend's Group of 20 economic summit, which he labelled a "historic" success.

Sarkozy has denounced the excesses of capitalism following the worst financial crisis in decades but has angered unions by spending billions on bailing out banks while dismantling part of France's 35-hour work week and relaxing other restrictions.

According to a poll for yesterday's Journal du Dimanche paper, the conservative leader's approval rating recovered one percentage point to 44 percent this month after falling sharply since he was elected last year.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon saw his personal approval rating improve two points to 55 percent.

With few signs the disparate strikes have struck a chord with the public and with the opposition Socialists distracted by squabbling, the unrest is not yet seen as a major political threat to Sarkozy, whose government avoided fanning the dispute.