France back on track

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The Independent Online
The return to work of railway and local transport workers in France continued to gather pace over the weekend, with prospects for travellers and commuters today looking brighter than at any time in almost a month.

The centre of Paris suddenly came alive with shoppers and sightseers yesterday, as people tried to make up for lost time. Except in the south- west, regional trains should be back to normal today - with free travel for the next few days - and the national rail network is expected to follow tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the prime minister, Alain Juppe, appeared on television for the third time in 10 days in another attempt to explain his welfare reforms and gain popular trust. This was evidence of the extent to which, despite having ''stood firm'' and won a partial victory, Mr Juppe must still re- establish his government's credibility.

Looking subdued, and trying consciously to avoid the mannerisms and turns of phrase that have led the French public to regard him as "arrogant", Mr Juppe said he wanted to concentrate on "reconciliation" and gaining a "consensus". Sprinkling his answers with "all the French people" and "all of us together", he insisted on the need for welfare reform, uttered not a word that could signal a victory, and said nothing would be decided finally until after the "social summit"on job creation, set for Thursday.

But the general sentiment of protest remains very strong. On Saturday, the two most militant unions, the Force Ouvriere and the CGT, persuaded almost as many people to demonstrate as had turned on Tuesday.A new day of protest has been called for tomorrow.

Debasing the debate, page 14

Egalite and fraternite, page 15