France faces ‘Black Thursday’ of strikes, protests
Parisians woke up to a difficult day ahead as commuters across France face transportation disruptions as government and transport workers stage walkouts in a major test for French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his government’s handling of the economic crisis.
France headed into a "Black Thursday" of mass strikes called by all of the country's major unions to protest President Nicolas Sarkozy's handling of the economic crisis.
Millions of commuters faced transport chaos as rail and metro services were pared down to the minimum while airlines planned to cancel flights from main airports.
Hundreds of thousands of people were set to take part in 200 protests organised in cities across France to call on Sarkozy's right-wing government to take action to protect jobs and the social security net from the downturn.
With unemployment mounting, union leaders say French workers should not have to foot the bill for a crisis that has led to multi-billion-euro government bailouts for French banks, carmakers and other struggling sectors.
"We need to shout, because there is a major injustice in this crisis," said Francois Chereque, leader of the CFDT union, who accused Sarkozy of pushing through a pro-business reform agenda.
Sarkozy came to power in May 2007 promising to raise living standards and kickstart the economy but has been forced to set aside 360 billion euros (477 billion dollars) of state money to underwrite struggling banks.
The president has announced a 26-billion-euro stimulus package while pledging to press ahead with unpopular reforms to trim the public sector workforce and liberalise the labour market.
"I understand your difficulties," Sarkozy said earlier this week. "But I do not want to halt the drive toward reform."