Strikes to continue in France over pension reform bill

Some 200 demonstrators blocked France’s Marseille-Provence airport for more than three hours Thursday as strikes and protests continued across the country, trade unions said.A large rally was scheduled for central Paris in the afternoon as demonstrators stepped up protests against a government proposal to raise the national retirement age from 60 to 62.Pop star Lady Gaga postponed two Paris shows this weekend because of “the logistical difficulties due to the strikes,” her website said.”Unfortunately, as there is no certainty that the trucks can make it to the Bercy for this weekend’s shows, the Lady Gaga performances are now postponed,” the statement said.The French Senate is working its way through roughly 1,000 amendments to the pension reform bill, and a final vote on the bill could be as early as Thursday and as late as Sunday.The lower house of parliament has already passed it, by a vote of 329 to 233.If there are substantial differences between the Senate and National Assembly versions, a conference committee will have to iron them out before the final version goes to the president.France has been reeling from strikes.Police and protesters clashed Wednesday, and on Tuesday, 428 people were arrested in connection with the protests.About 1.1 million people have demonstrated across the country, French media quoted police as saying. Unions put the figure at 3.5 million nationwide as the rolling strike goes on for more than a week now.

Students from high schools have been skipping classes to join the strikes. Some students told CNN in Paris that they are worried they won’t be able to get jobs if the current generation hangs onto jobs for an extra two years.Later Wednesday, French authorities unblocked three fuel depots after the president ordered police to break blockades at the sites by strikers.”We did it because the west of France is threatened by a very severe shortage of fuel. The opening of these three depots was essential and will gradually allow normal activity to resume,” Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said.

There are 219 fuel depots in France. In addition to the three, 21 fuel depots have been unblocked between Friday and Tuesday.The French government contends that the country cannot afford the earlier retirement payments.”I will implement the pension reform because my duty as head of state is to ensure that French people and their children can count on retirement and that the amount they receive will be maintained,” Sarkozy said Wednesday.The strikers have crippled transportation, and affected schools and fuel supplies – Cnn