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Sarkozy Calls for End to French Transport Strikes

Reuters
Tuesday, 20 Nov 2007 | 12:29 PM ET

French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged transport workers on Tuesday to end a seven-day national strike over pension reform and give negotiations a chance.

In his first comment on the week-long stoppage, Sarkozy said the contested reform of the so-called special regimes, which let some state workers retire early, was years overdue and was aimed at harmonising all state pensions.

National rail and Paris public transport unions have been on strike since Nov. 14, and energy workers have also staged sporadic stoppages to protest against the government proposals.

"Everyone should understand that for me, in such a conflict, there will neither be winners or losers ... but I also say that one should know how to end a strike when the time for negotiations starts," Sarkozy said in a speech to French mayors.

Negotiations with rail and public transport workers are due to open on Wednesday despite the continuing labour dispute.

The pensions showdown is the biggest challenge Sarkozy has faced since taking office in May and his government fears its credibility would be destroyed if it gives in to the unions.

Sarkozy said most transport workers had returned to work and accused a small minority of unionists of trying to radicalise the protest and damaging the French economy.

"I am thinking about those millions of French people who after a day's work do not have a bus, a metro or a train to get home and who are tired of being held hostage. I am thinking of those companies that risk having to lay off workers," he said.

France has been hit by a matrix of disputes in recent weeks over an array of government reforms, including spreading protests by students over a shake-up at universities.

Sarkozy said he would not review the law approved in the summer offering universities greater autonomy. He also vowed to press ahead with numerous other initiatives outlined in his election manifesto.

"I suggested to the French a policy of effort, not a policy of sacrifice," he said. "For 25, 30 years we have asked the French to make sacrifices and sadly, those sacrifices have been in vain."