French Senate passes Sarkozy pension reform

French Senate passes Sarkozy pension reform

As expected, the French Senate approved President Nicolas Sarkozy's controversial pension reform late Friday, as fierce protests against the measure were set to continue, dpa reported.

Before it becomes law, the reform must still be approved by a parliamentary committee and voted again by a joint session of parliament.

The press office of the Senate said that the committee would begin meeting on Monday. That means that the measure could be voted into law by Wednesday. The reform gradually raises the retirement age from 60 to 62 by the year 2018.

The Senate vote - by 177 in favour and 153 against - came after some 150 hours of often bitter debate that was held as a strike by oil refinery workers and widespread blockades of fuel depots led to petrol shortages in several parts of the country.

Final approval of the pension reform is unlikely to halt the protest movement. Unions have vowed to continue their strikes and street protests after passage of the measure, and have scheduled two more days of nationwide protests for October 26 and November 6.

A poll released Friday showed that a sizeable majority of the French people supported the protests, with nearly 70 per cent of respondents telling the BVA institute that they were in favour of the strikes and street demonstrations.

That is bad news for Sarkozy, who has characterized the reform as the most important legislation of his five-year term. Its passage will likely do little to improve his popularity, which is at an all-time low just 18 months before the 2012 presidential elections

Early Friday, violence erupted between police and strikers at an oil refinery near Paris as the French government tried forcibly to restore the flow of fuel to the country.

The clashes came after the government requisitioned the refinery at Grandpuits and about two dozen of its striking workers in the interest of national defence. Any worker refusing to comply with such an order can be sent to prison.

All 12 of the country's oil refineries have been on strike since October 12.

Environment Minister Jean-Lois Borloo said on French television Friday that about one-fifth of the country's 12,300 service stations were still out of petrol.

The office of Prime Minister Francois Fillon said it would take "several days" to restore the situation to normal, as millions of French families prepared to take off on holidays in their automobiles.

The violence at Grandpuits broke out when police charged strikers who had formed a human chain in front of the refinery entrance to prevent their requisitioned colleagues' return to work.

A spokesman for the CGT trade union, Charles Foulard, told BFM television that three people were injured in the skirmish.

"We are outraged, we are scandalized," Foulard said, and added that the union would file a legal complaint against the government action. He said the police action was "a declaration of war against the wage-earners of this country."

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