- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 15, 2010

PARIS (AP) — France’s National Assembly on Wednesday approved a broad retirement reform plan that includes a highly contested measure to increase the retirement age from 60 to 62.

The lower house of parliament voted 329-233 in favor of the bill, which now goes to the Senate.

The vote followed a boisterous overnight session that turned into a shouting match over one of the pillars of conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy’s reform agenda and a prime target of France’s powerful unions.

Despite the uproar by the Socialist-led opposition at the National Assembly, the government appears all but certain to make France the latest European country to require workers to stay on the job longer because of a deficit-plagued pension system.

Hundreds of protesters, waving banners and shouting, “We are mistreated!” led a demonstration on the Place de la Concorde — across the Seine River from the Assembly — to demand that the government scrap the plan.

The central and most controversial provision of the retirement reforms sought by Mr. Sarkozy would require workers to stay on the job until 62 — up from 60 — to collect a full state pension.

France still would have one of the lowest retirement ages on the Continent. Germany recently raised its retirement age from 65 to 67 to offset a shrinking, aging population, and the United States also is raising its retirement age gradually to 67.

Inside the chamber, Assembly President Bernard Accoyer on Wednesday cut short an increasingly boisterous overnight session, blaming critics of “obstruction” and attempts to stall debate on the bill.

In response, Socialists angrily shouted “Resign!” Major labor unions plan an open-ended strike starting Sept. 23 over the measure.

A week ago, at least 1.1 million people poured into the streets in 220 French cities to protest the proposals, and a strike disrupted trains, planes, hospitals and mail delivery across the country.

The controversy comes as Mr. Sarkozy’s government is battling heavy criticism over its newly energized policy of deporting Gypsies, also known as Roma, without proper residency papers back to their home countries, mainly in Eastern Europe.

Mr. Sarkozy’s approval ratings are hovering near the lowest levels since he took office in 2007.

Critics fear the retirement reform will erode one of France’s hard-won achievements in the labor system, but proponents say the country can’t afford a state-backed retirement program running deficits for years as Europeans live longer.

Associated Press writer Sylvie Corbet contributed to this report.


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