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French rail and roads to be hit by Thursday general strike

media High-speed TVG trains and urban transport traffic will be halved Thursday Reuters

French unions have organised a one-day general strike Thursday to protest pension reforms by the government that push back the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62 years. Major disruptions are expected in the transport sector in particular, with traffic halved for high-speed TVG trains and urban transport.

Bernard Thibault, leader of the country’s largest union federation, the CGT, hopes that a million French to take to the streets to oppose the government's proposed pension changes.

Thursday will mark the fourth day this year that unions have taken action on the subject of pensions and employment. One union federation, Force Ouvrière, decided to go it alone on 15 June, with mediocre results, while another protest on 27 May saw 395,000 people demonstrate throughout the country, according to the Interior Ministry.

"The mobilisation will certainly be strong, but we aren’t afraid," said Labour Minister Eric Woerth, who’s responsible for reform.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday he wants to "maintain dialogue" with unions.

According to a poll published Wednesday in Le Figaro, more than half of French (58 per cent) consider the pensions reform "acceptable".

But the day before another poll, conducted for business daily Les Echos and France Info radio reported that 56 per cent oppose the measure and 64 per cent are in favour of the day of industrial action.

More than half of primary school teachers are planning to strike tomorrow, according to unions.

The biggest teaching union, SNUipp-FSU, said 52.5 per cent of its members would walk out to defend their right to retire at 60.

In Paris, 80 schools out of 660 will be closed. The effect on secondary schools will be more limited, and the baccalauréat exams should go ahead without disruption, although Education Minister Luc Chatel says that students will be able to resit orals if they miss them because of transport problems.

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