Strikers cut Paris rail power lines

28th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 28 (AFP) - Striking electricity workers again challenged the centre-right French government by cutting off supplies to the railroad network around Paris, causing massive disruption at the height of the morning rush hour.

PARIS, June 28 (AFP) - Striking electricity workers again challenged the centre-right French government by cutting off supplies to the railroad network around Paris, causing massive disruption at the height of the morning rush hour.

The strike was aimed at government plans to sell off part of the wholly state-owned electricity company, EDF, Europe's largest power supplier and nuclear operator, and open the French electricity market to outside competition.

A spokesman for RTE, the division that supplies power to the railways, said "saboteurs" had damaged equipment at a switching center west of Paris, cutting supplies to the Saint Lazare terminal that brings passengers from the west and northwest of Paris.

The state railway company SNCF and RTE both said they would seek to identify the alleged saboteurs and take legal action against them - raising the prospect of further conflict with the militant CGT electricity workers' union. However, the union said Monday that it was not involved in Monday's action.

A spokeswoman for the state railway company SNCF said an estimated 150,000 passengers were affected by delays and cancellations of more than 200 trains to Saint-Lazare, while traffic on the Paris metro and the city's regional express network (RER) was also disrupted.

It was the second such disruption this month. In earlier protests, hundreds of thousands of passengers were affected by a series of wildcat operations against the railways.

SNCF, complaining that its customers were being held hostage in a dispute that had nothing to do with the railway company, said power to the Saint-Lazare terminal was restored at 9.30 a.m. after a power cut lasting four hours. A spokesman said normal services were expected to be restored by 11 a.m. while services on the Paris metro were reported back to normal by 10 a.m.

France is under heavy pressure from the European Union to end EDF's protected monopoly status. Rival utilities in Britain, Italy and Spain have complained bitterly to the European Commission about EDF's incursions into their privatized markets, while they are excluded from the French market.

The EU also says the state financial guarantees enjoyed by EDF are illegal.

The government wants to turn EDF and its sister utility Gaz de France, into public corporations with limited outside capital participation, and gradually open up the domestic market to competition - a move the 110,000 electricity workers fear will lead to a loss of jobs and and end to their protected status as public service workers.

Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has promised workers they will retain their job status for life and keep their generous early retirement and pension privileges. He has said the state will not allow its stake in EDF to fall below 70 percent.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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