Paris in flames as strikes shut down hospitals, schools and transport

Clay Curtis
December 12, 2019

- Trains cancelled, schools closed: France scrambled to make contingency plans on for a huge strike against pension overhauls that poses one of the biggest challenges yet to French President's sweeping reform drive.

The workers will get full pension if they retire at the age of 64.

According to the workers' unions, the strike will continue until Monday, with local media reporting that a total of 70 people have been arrested so far.

The disruption meant popular tourist sites in Paris, including the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum, were closed for the day and usually busy transport hubs like the Gare du Nord were unusually quiet.

The Paris prosecutor's office said an internal police inquiry was launched after a video emerged showing officers beating a protester Thursday on the Boulevard de Magenta.

"Additional protests may also be held linked to the yellow vest (gilets jaunes) movement".

Unions declared an open-ended strike and hope to keep up pressure on the government through next week.

Macron will stick to his plans to "reform and modernize" France, the official said, noting that the plan is in line with the mandate he was given by voters.

Despite some annoyance at the inconvenience, the strikers are still enjoying broad support from the public, with recent polls showing an average of 60 percent of French people supporting to strike.

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As flares light up the night, stun grenades can be heard exploding. "It's really a disaster for the people, and the politicians should do something because we've really had enough".

Suburban commuter Eric Dao managed to get one of the few functioning regional trains into the city Friday, although he arrived late. "We like walking", she said.

BlaBlaCar CEO Nicolas Brusson said it has seen a surge in use of both their long- and short-disance services, telling The Associated Press some routes have tripled in popularity since Thursday such as Paris-Strasbourg.

Groups hurled flares, smashed shop windows and started fires as 6,000 police were deployed in the capital. Mobicoop saw a 178% increase since Thursday.

The idea is that the schemes, which include special provisions for certain professions, such as rail workers and train drivers who benefit from early retirement, would be unified into a single points-based system that would give all workers the same rights.

Unions argue that Macron's "universal" pension system would eliminate dozens of separate plans for public workers and will force millions of people, in both public and private sectors, to work well beyond the legal retirement age of 62, news agency AFP reported.

But the reform also aims to save money, and teachers are among many who worry it will leave them less money at the end of their careers.

Elsewhere, thousands of red-vested union members marched through cities from Marseille on the Mediterranean to Lille in the north.

Catherine Perret, CGT secretary, said today: "Workers showed that they were engaged yesterday". "Retirement pensions should be an enduring and definitive sign of respect for the accomplishment of years of work, often laborious and annoying".

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