Thu, Oct 18, 2007 - Page 6 News List

France braces for chaos of national transport strike

AFP , PARIS

French commuters face chaos today with a 24-hour strike expected to cripple the national network, shut down the opera in Paris and possibly affect the rugby World Cup final, officials said.

State rail operator SNCF said the Eurostar to London will operate almost as normal but only 46 out of 700 domestic fast-trains will be running and nearly all regional train links will be canceled.

Widespread disruption is also expected on the Paris metro, bus and suburban commuter rail networks as the city prepares to host rugby union's showcase World Cup final between South Africa and England on Saturday.

Singers and actors at the Paris opera and the Comedie Francaise announced they would refuse to perform in productions of La Traviata and Le Malade Imaginaire, on what unionists have dubbed "Black Thursday."

About 60 protest marches are scheduled to take place across the country, including Paris from the early afternoon.

The strike is due to end this evening but some rail unions have said they will try to roll it over into tomorrow and beyond -- stoking fears of disruption around the rugby final at the Stade de France.

An open-ended strike notice has been served by the CGT union in the Paris-north region which serves the Stade de France.

The civil aviation authority also warned that there could be limited disruption to Paris flights early today, mainly because of the difficulties faced by staff in getting to work.

The strike, which officially started yesterday evening, is against government plans to reform so-called "special" pension systems enjoyed by some 1.6 million rail, energy and other employees.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has pledged to increase the length of contribution periods for these workers from 37.5 to 40 years, in line with other public and private sector staff.

The strike is seen as a key test for the president. The last time a government tried to reform the systems was in 1995 when prime minister Alain Juppe was forced into a humiliating climbdown by weeks of strikes and demonstrations.

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