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Turmoil continues in France as nationwide strike extends through weekend

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The most serious nationwide strike to hit France in years caused new weekend travel turmoil on Saturday, with unions warning the walkouts would last well into next week.

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The challenge thrown to President Emmanuel Macron over his plans for radical pension reform has seen hundreds of thousands take to the streets and key transport services brought to a standstill.

The strikes, which began on Thursday, have recalled the winter of 1995, when three weeks of huge stoppages forced a social policy U-turn by the then-government.

Unions have vowed a second series of mass demonstrations nationwide on Tuesday after big rallies on Thursday and there is expected to be little easing of the transport freezes over the coming days.

The strikes could prove to be the biggest domestic challenge yet for Macron, who came to power in 2017 on the back of promises to radically reform France and has sought a prominent place on the international stage as Europes number one statesman.

Macron was widely believed to have ridden out the challenge posed by the “yellow vests” whose weekly Saturday protests against inequality in France had shaken the government over the last year.

But the yellow vests have also sought to utilise the momentum of the strike movement and are expected to hold protests across France this Saturday.

Government stands firm

With Macron seeking for now to rise above the fray, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe insisted that the government would not abandon the plan even if it was prepared to bring it in more gradually.

He said the government would work with trade unions to introduce a single points-based pension scheme that would require the French to “work a bit longer” and replace dozens of more advantageous plans currently enjoyed by public-sector workers.

But the premier emphasised that the changes, which he said would be unveiled on Wednesday, were going to be introduced “progressively, without harshness”.

The SNCF rail operator has warned that disruption at the weekend will be at the same level as the last two days with just 10-15 percent of high-speed and regional trains running.

The Paris metro will remain severely disrupted with nine lines entirely shut, five only partially and just the driverless 1 and 14 lines working normally.

Many cancellations are also expected on the international Eurostar and Thalys services.

Air travel, which has been less impacted by the strikes, was returning closer to normal with air traffic restrictions now dropped by civil aviation authorities.

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