Paris pensions protest biggest yet: unions, police

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A street rally in Paris on Tuesday against the raising of the retirement age was the biggest since the protests began, unions and police said, estimating 330,000 protestors and 89,000 respectively.

One union, the CFDT, estimated the total turnout nationwide at 3.5 million. The national police estimate, which is typically lower than that of the unions, had yet to be released.

But Paris figures provided by the leading labour unions and the city police showed an increase since the last major strike and demonstrations on September 23, when unions counted 300,000 marchers and police 65,000.

Students and school pupils broadened the movement and their participation -- along with threats by some workers to make their strikes open-ended -- was seen as an escalation of what has become the biggest battle in Sarkozy's presidency.

As a huge march snaked its way though the streets of Paris, Prime Minister Francois Fillon defended the pension plan during a rowdy parliamentary session.

"We are determined to carry through this reform," he said.

The Senate is debating the bill and has already passed its most contested measure, to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.

Sarkozy says the reform is essential for reining in France's public deficit.

Unions and opposition politicians say it puts an unfair burden on workers and have made alternative proposals to fix the deficit.

© 2010 AFP

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