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Strike Affects Travel in FranceJanuary 30, 2009 By: Jena Tesse Fox
The Guardian has reported that while Thursday's nationwide strike throughout France did disrupt transportation, it did not shut down the country entirely.
Unions said more than two million public and private sector workers took to the streets across France to protest against President Nicolas Sarkozy's handling of the economic crisis. People from all professions, including air traffic controllers and train drivers, walked off the job for 36 hours, but "Black Thursday" did not bring total transport paralysis.
After dark, the UK paper reports, more than 100 people clashed with police at Place de l'Opéra, throwing bottles, overturning cars, and starting fires in the street. Thirteen people were arrested.
CNN has reported that French union officials said 2.5 million people demonstrated across the country, while the Ministry of the Interior put the number at 1 million. No arrests or violence were reported, Paris police said, and CNN is reporting that, while there were disruptions, they were not as bad as had been feared.
In Paris, all but three lines of the Metro subway system were operating Thursday, the RATP transport authority said. Buses and trains were operating normally with only slight disruptions, the authority said.
Suburban trains lines into and around Paris were badly hit. At best, only one in five was operating Thursday, operator RER said.
Public transportation workers and other civil servants planned the 36-hour strike over a range of concerns spurred by the world economic crisis.
Specifically, workers are anxious about such issues as low salaries, poor buying power and job insecurity. Unions complain that the government has spent billions to bail out banks and the auto industry while allowing little of that money to filter down to workers. Students, teachers and government workers were striking alongside transportation employees. Their collective strike action challenges the way the French government has handled the economic crisis.
The strike began at 8 p.m. (2 p.m. ET) Wednesday and is to end at 8 a.m. (2 a.m. ET) Friday. Union officials plan to meet Monday to consider future strikes, they said.
Air France said it was operating 100 percent of its long-haul flights. In Paris, the airline said it suspended 30 percent of its short- and medium-haul flights at Orly airport and 10 percent at Charles de Gaulle as a precaution during the strike.
The national state-owned railway SNCF said traffic was normal on trains from Paris to other European cities such as London and Zurich. It said the national high-speed TGV trains were running normally in eastern France, with traffic at 50 percent to 80 percent of normal levels in other parts of the country.