Paris protestors admit weariness as strikes wane

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Weariness, fatigue and anger: demonstrators at Thursday's Paris protest against President Nicolas Sarkozy's pension reform nevertheless vowed to keep fighting even after parliament passed the law.

"There's some weariness," said Emmanuel Lepine, a worker from Gravenchon oil refinery, which was on strike for two weeks until staff voted to resume work after fuel shortages almost brought the country to a standstill.

"You feel like you're a driving force for 15 days, without rolling strikes in other sectors of the economy. You're aware that the refineries that were on strike were not enough to make the government bend," said Lepine.

"The law has been voted by the National Assembly and the Senate, but where are the people?" said Lepine. "The determination is intact, the battle continues: we don't want this law and we'll continue until it's withdrawn."

Nearby, CGT union Renault members handed out cold beer from a pick-up truck as sound systems boomed a mix of rap, rock and samba, under the bemused eye of office workers come out to watch the demo and smoke a cigarette.

A man blowing a vuvuzela mixed with the crowd as small groups of drunken teenage anarchists brandished black flags, but most of those taking part in this ninth day of protests in the capital were middle-aged.

The good-tempered cortege snaked through the elegant shopping district of Boulevard Lafayette, although routes towards Sarkozy's Elysee Palace were blocked by rows of police vans and large crowds of CRS riot police.

"It's going to continue even if the law is voted," said Fidele Massala, 62. "It's not just retirement. The same problems are everywhere, there's no work."

The marchers paused under the windows of the reliably pro-government Le Figaro newspaper to chant abuse and radical theatre troops staged dance and mime performances, but it was clear that numbers were lower than before.

Workers at the Grandpuits refinery outside Paris were still on strike and at the rally, but they were sad that others had gone back to work.

"It's difficult to see colleagues abandon us, to see them throw in the towel," said Laurent Montels, 36, with strike action diminishing nationwide after parliament accepted to raise minimum retirement from 60 to 62.

"Not getting paid, spending 24 hours at the picket line, spending two hours at home taking a shower, seeing the kid who's waiting for you, avoiding an argument with the wife, heading off again: it wears you out," said Montels.

The occasionally violent standoffs with police have taken their toll.

"It's not easy, physically or morally," said a worker in his thirties who asked not to be named.

"By day, you have to deal with the pressure from the bosses trying to break the movement, threatening closure. At night you're surrounded by the police."

Fabrice Hiron had already spent 72 hours on the picket line.

"It's hard when you're not heard by the president, it's demoralising. It's hard to see that things don't change, that Nicolas Sarkozy forces the reform though," he said.

Many here hope that the law will simply not be applied, despite being passed by parliament, as happened following protests against a law on youth employment contracts in 2006.

"A law can be removed if the people decide so. We'll see how far the population is prepared to go," said Hiron.


© 2010 AFP

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