French pension strikes go into second day

Crowded Paris commuter train Many commuters voiced frustration but support for the strikes

French strikers are disrupting services for a second day running, as they seek to build pressure on the government over its pension reform plans.

Tuesday saw the biggest strikes and demonstrations so far in the campaign, and several unions say they will continue their stoppages indefinitely.

Rail services are still restricted, causing congestion and delays.

And strikers forced the closure of all six of the Total oil group's refineries in France, threatening fuel shortages.

Eleven out of the 12 refineries in France have now been affected by strike action - although a Total spokesman said the company had enough fuel in its depots to continue supplying France's filling stations.

The general strike on Tuesday - the third this month - saw more than a million people take to the streets. Unions put the national turnout at 3.5m, while police said 1.2m people were involved.

The unions are opposed to President Nicolas Sarkozy's plans to raise the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62, and to delay a full state pension from 65 to 67.

The government says the current pension arrangements are not sustainable and need to be reformed.

Mr Sarkozy on Wednesday told a meeting of MPs allied to his party that he would "go no further" in terms of concessions, according to the AFP news agency.

The lower house of parliament has approved the reforms, which are now working their way through the Senate.

Further protests

On the Paris trains, there was frustration but sympathy for the strikers.

"It's a bit annoying for those who work. But I completely understand their point," Isma Belmiloud told Reuters.

Eric Floresse said his commute had been disrupted, but in a good cause.

"I think the reform is unjust, there are already lots of older people who are unemployed.

"I think there are better ways to sort out the social security deficit, it's not the best solution," he added.

Nationally, fewer than half of local and inter-city trains were running, the SNCF national rail operator said. Eurostar services to England were unaffected.

The Eiffel Tower was open to tourists again on Wednesday, after workers walked out on Tuesday.

But certain unions - particularly in the transport sector - say their strikes are open-ended, and will hold daily ballots on whether to extend their action for another 24 hours.

Further mass demonstrations are planned for Saturday.

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