- Associated Press - Thursday, October 28, 2010

PARIS (AP) — French unions are not giving up: Thursday brought more nationwide street protests and strike-caused travel woes, even though parliament already has approved President Nicolas Sarkozy’s unpopular plan to raise the retirement age to 62.

Still, turnout appeared markedly weaker compared with recent protests that drew millions of people nationwide. In Paris, demonstrators waved union flags and set off flares, while in the southern city of Marseille they beat drums and blew whistles.

Protesters are waging a last-ditch attempt to persuade Mr. Sarkozy, a conservative, not to sign the bill changing the minimum age for retirement from 60 to 62.

But Mr. Sarkozy has refused to back down, even amid two weeks of strikes that canceled trains, shut down oil refineries and left drivers struggling to find gasoline. Those strikes have been losing momentum for days.

A small number of trains were canceled Thursday, but the problem was bigger for airlines. A third of flights at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport and half of those at the city’s smaller Orly Airport have been canceled.

The opposition Socialists plan to challenge the bill’s constitutionality before a special council. Mr. Sarkozy must wait for the council’s approval before he signs it, a step expected in mid-November.

Though the strikes are tapering off, the fuel shortages they caused are still a problem. One in five gas stations is still empty or short of gas because of the refinery strike, said the national petroleum industry body.

Striking dock workers have exacerbated the shortages. Oil tankers are lined up by the dozens in the Mediterranean off the port of Marseille, waiting to unload. The Normandy port of Le Havre faces a similar situation. Dock workers have been protesting for a month, partly over the pension plan, though their central concern is port reform.

Unions see retirement at 60 as a cornerstone of France’s generous social benefit system, but the government says the entire pension system is in jeopardy without the reform because French people are living longer — an average of nearly 85 years for women and 78 for men.

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