France protest counts diverge, unions claim millions

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Estimates for turnout Tuesday at the latest mass protests against pensions reform in France diverged sharply with authorities counting several hundred thousand demonstrators and unions 3.5 million.

The interior ministry said 480,000 people demonstrated in various towns by midday and police in Paris said at mid-afternoon that 60,000 people were marching there, fewer than on the last comparable day of marches.

The government had yet to give its overall estimate for the day. The CGT, France's biggest union, told AFP it estimated overall turnout at 3.5 million, equal to its estimate for the October 12 marches.

Unions' estimates at recent demonstrations have habitually been several times higher than those of police.

The interior ministry said the midday turnout, based on a police count, was down from a figure of 500,000 at the same time during the last weekday demonstrations on October 12.

The police figure for the key Paris march was down from 65,000 last time. The CGT said 330,000 people marched in Paris on Tuesday.

Protests were held in towns across France on the sixth day of coordinated nationwide actions against President Nicolas Sarkozy's plan to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.

© 2010 AFP

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