Hundreds Of Thousands March In French Protests
Thursday, 19 March 2009

Hundreds of thousands of people across France on Thursday began protests expected to draw at least a million demonstrators to the streets to denounce President Nicolas Sarkozy's handling of the economic crisis.

The protests, which polls show are backed by three quarters of the French public, reflect growing disillusionment with Sarkozy's pledges of reform.

The crisis has sent the number of jobless past two million and left many people struggling with the high cost of living.

Transport, energy and some government offices were all affected as workers went off the job, although there was no general shutdown of the economy. Most businesses and public services functioned at close to normal levels.

Around 200 marches and rallies are planned to follow an earlier day of protest on Jan. 29, when up to 2.5 million people took part. There has also been a spate of smaller demonstrations against factory closures and job cuts.

"They (the protesters) have a profound sense of social injustice, and that, I think, is something that neither the government nor the employers have understood," said Jean-Claude Mailly, head of the large Force Ouvriere union.

Sarkozy, battling to contain a budget deficit that has ballooned dramatically as the state pours billions of euros into bailing out banks and carmakers, has refused to contemplate union demands for pay hikes or better job protection.

But a series of disputes, ranging from strikes by university staff to unruly protests by workers at a tyre plant in northern France, have underlined a worsening climate of discontent that the government fears could escalate. The tyre plant workers pelted managers with eggs at the protest this week.


The main rally in Paris was due to start at 1300 GMT (2 p.m. local time) and run until around 2000 GMT. Demonstrations in provincial cities earlier showed a generally strong turnout.

"According to the information we have on the demonstrations from this morning, there are more demonstrators than there were on Jan. 29 and more stoppages in the private sector," said Bernard Thibault, head of the powerful CGT union.

Between 40,000 and 50,000 people marched in the northern city of Rouen, organisers said, while in the port city of Le Havre, unions said 35,000 people took part in protests. Police put the number in Le Havre at only 10,000.

High speed TGV intercity trains and suburban rail services in Paris and a number of provincial cities, including Lyon, Bordeaux and Strasbourg, were heavily affected, although most Paris metro services were running close to normal.

Energy workers also cut off 10,000 megawatts of French electricity production capacity overnight, including 14 percent of nuclear capacity in 11 different plants, the CGT union said.

The unions have presented a long list of demands, including a boost for the lower salaried, more measures to protect employment, a tax hike for high earners and a halt to job cuts planned in the public sector.

The government has introduced a 26 billion euro ($36 billion) stimulus plan aimed at business investment, and after the Jan. 29 strike Sarkozy offered 2.65 billion euros of additional aid to help vulnerable households weather the storm.

With its large public sector and generous welfare system, France is better placed than many to ride out the economic storm, but it is nonetheless taking a hit, with many analysts predicting the economy will contract by 2 percent this year and unemployment will jump 25 percent to almost 10 percent.


Comments Add New
Write comment
  We don't publish your mail. See privacy policy.
Please input the anti-spam code that you can read in the image.