France walks out to save pensions
French unions have launched a massive strike over President Nicolas Sarkozy's deeply unpopular plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 by 2018.
Two million public and private sector workers, students and pensioners took part in over 200 street demonstrations across the country against the pension "reform," which would also lift the age at which employees would be eligible for full pension payments from 65 to 67.
In Paris over 100,000 marched behind their union banners and placards reading "Liberty but more importantly, equality" for the one-day event.
Protesters tore into the Sarkozy administration, nicknaming it the ''bling bling'' regime for its bias towards the well-heeled elite.
The general strike hit the transport, education, justice, hospital, media and banking sectors.
At midday on Tuesday the labour ministry said that 25 per cent of civil servants were on strike, while state-owned rail operator SNCF said that nearly 45 per cent of staff there had stayed away.
Around 30 per cent of secondary school teachers took part in the strike.
Civil aviation authorities asked airlines to cut a quarter of flights at Paris airports and only two out of five fast trains ran.
Traffic ran at a snail's pace on the city's subway and suburban transport lines, travel to Germany was curtailed while Spain and Italy were completely cut off, but Eurostar trains between Paris and London ran as normal.
The strike coincided with the start of parliamentary debates over the Sarkozy government's pension reforms, which have been endorsed by the International Monetary Fund and credit ratings agencies.
French Prime Minister François Fillon reportedly ruled out any change to the fundamentals of the plan - but he intimated that some concessions could be made at the end of the week.
Mr Fillon echoed embattled Labour Minister Eric Woerth, who had said that the government would press ahead with the reform no matter how strong the protest turnout was.
The Sarkozy administration has assured EU commissioners that it is committed to cutting the public deficit from a projected 8 per cent of gross domestic product this year to 6 per cent next year, 4.6 per cent in 2012 and 3 per cent in 2013, the maximum allowed under EU diktat