Unions launch strike over pension overhaul
PARIS | French train traffic began tapering off Monday at the start of what promises to be a major strike over unpopular conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.
The strike took effect gradually on the state-run train network starting at 8 p.m. But the big disruptions were expected Tuesday, with protesters taking to the streets and the work stoppage spreading to airports and public transport.
Civil aviation authorities asked airlines to cut a quarter of their flights at Paris’ airports Tuesday. Only two out of five fast trains are to run, and traffic will be slowed on Paris’ subway and suburban transport lines.
The strike coincides with the start of debate in parliament over a plan to overhaul the money-losing pension system so it will break even in 2018. The government insists the reform is essential as people live longer, and it has urged people to show “courage” as it tries to chip away at the huge national debt.
Unions say the government is attacking one of France’s most cherished social protections — though a retirement age of 62 would still be among the lowest in Europe.
About 200 street demonstrations are planned Tuesday throughout France, including in Paris. Unions hope to mobilize 2 million people at a time when Sarkozy’s approval ratings hover in the mid-30 percent range. A similar effort June 24 drew nearly 800,000.
Suicide attack kills 17 people
LAKKI MARWAT | A Taliban suicide bomber detonated a car in an alley behind a police station in a strategically important town in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, killing at least 17 police and civilians in an explosion that shattered the station and neighboring homes.
About 40 people were wounded in the attack in Lakki Marwat, which sits on the main road between Punjab province, Pakistan’s largest and most prosperous, and the North and South Waziristan tribal regions.
Hours after the attack, officials said a suspected U.S. missile strike had killed three reputed militants in North Waziristan, home to the Haqqani network, a militant group battling U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
In Lakki Marwat, rescue workers and police officials were digging through rubble at the station, police official Ghulam Mohammad Khan said. Nine police officers, four adult civilians and four children going to school were slain in the attack.
• From wire dispatches and staff reports