Tensions over pensions continue
PARIS – Protesters blockaded Marseille’s airport, Lady Gaga canceled concerts in Paris and rioting youths attacked police in Lyon today ahead of a tense Senate vote on raising the retirement age to 62.
A quarter of the nation’s gas stations were out of fuel, despite President Nicolas Sarkozy’s orders to force open depots barricaded by striking workers.
Gasoline shortages and violence on the margins of student protests have heightened the standoff between the government and labour unions that see retirement at 60 as a hard-earned right.
New violence broke out in Lyon, as police chased rampaging youths who overturned a car and hurled bottles. Riot officers tried to subdue the violence with tear gas. A gendarme helicopter circled overhead.
“It is not troublemakers who will have the last word in a democracy,” Sarkozy told local officials in central France, promising to find and punish rioters. He accused strikers of “taking the economy, businesses, daily life hostage.”
While the Senate was nearing the end of a protracted debate on a reform that Sarkozy calls crucial to his presidency, students barricaded high schools and took to the streets nationwide Thursday afternoon. Hundreds filled the port of Marseille — where dozens of ships waited in the Mediterranean after days of strikes have blocked their access to a key oil terminal.
The Senate vote on the sweeping pension reform is scheduled for Thursday, but the debate could drag on for another day or two. Opposition Socialists proposed more than 1,000 amendments to the pension reform bill approved by the lower house of parliament last month, and the senators must debate and vote on each one.
The French government — like many heavily indebted governments around Europe — says raising the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62 and overhauling the money-losing pension system are vital to ensuring that future generations receive any pensions at all. (AP)