French strikers rally over pension reform

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Unions said the rallies would be the first in a series

Tens of thousands of striking workers have rallied across France to protest against pension reform.

Unions said the rallies would be the first in a series of demonstrations over the issue.

President Nicolas Sarkozy is reportedly planning to raise the retirement age by 1-3 years from 60, and to extend the required pension contribution period.

He has indicated that pushing up the retirement age would be his government's key reform for this year.

In Paris, police said about 22,00 people were marching, down from 31,000 people at a previous strike over social and economic policies two months ago.

Unions put the the figure at 90,000, up from their estimate of 60,000 in March.

Between 10 and 20% of workers were estimated to be striking on Thursday in schools, the post office and at France Telecom.

Like many European countries, France is struggling to rein in a public deficit that has risen sharply during the global economic crisis.

France has one of the lowest retirement ages in Europe.

Many public sector workers retire before 60 through special schemes for those judged to be employed in tough professions or those who began their jobs as teenagers.

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