French workers stage new day of protest
French factory workers and civil servants headed up marches across the country Saturday as thousands staged a new day of protest over President Nicolas Sarkozy's handling of the economic crisis.Paris - French factory workers and civil servants headed up marches across the country Saturday as thousands staged a new day of protest over President Nicolas Sarkozy's handling of the economic crisis.
France's eight main unions are leading their fifth day of action this year to demand stronger steps to cushion families from a global downturn that has plunged the country into recession and sent unemployment soaring.
Some 150 rallies and marches were taking place across France, with the main demonstration in Paris set to leave the Place de la Bastille at 2:00 pm (1200 GMT), snaking across the south of the capital.
But early turnout on Saturday was far lower than on May Day, when up to a million people took to the streets, amid signs the movement is running out of steam as France gears up for its traditional summer break.
Strike action kept national newspapers off the shelves Saturday, but trains were running normally and overall disruption was set to be minimal.
In southeastern Avignon, workers protesting at the closure of an historic paper mill by US group Schweitzer-Mauduit led a march of around 1,000 people, while 500 marched in the port of Toulon.
Unions said 13,000 people had joined large marches in southwestern Toulouse and Bordeaux, including workers protesting at the closure of car parts supplier Molex, police put the figure much lower at around 3,500.
Across western France, unions said up to 6,500 people in total took to the streets in Rennes, Brest, Poitiers and Le Mans where unions said Renault factory workers, hospital staff and rail workers joined the rally.
Police put the figure lower at around 3,500.
Up to 2,000 people took part in half a dozen rallies in eastern France, from the mustard capital Dijon to Colmar, according to unions.
Workers angry at job cuts in a local glassworks also headed up a march of 700 people in northern Reims, with larger demos to kick off later in the day.
Rail employees and hospital and public university lecturers angry at reform plans also joined in many of the marches.
Sarkozy boosted some social security benefits to defuse criticism that he was helping banks and carmakers more than ordinary workers, after union-led protests drew more than a million people into the streets in January.
But the French president has refused to back down from plans to cut tens of thousands of public sector jobs and has repeatedly rejected union calls for an increase in the minimum wage.
Union leaders launched a new round of negotiations with employers this week and are set to meet Sarkozy early next month to review the impact of existing measures to help families through the slowdown.
AFP / Expatica