French pension protests boosted by huge turnout

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French pension protests boosted by huge turnout

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Opposition to French pension reforms has been boosted by the biggest street protests yet. Unions estimate that up to three and a half million people took part.

The government says it would be disastrous to abandon plans to raise the retirement age to 62.

But it is worried that increasing numbers of young protesters might amplify the movement – as one leading opposition figure is calling for.

Segolene Royal, the former Socialist presidential candidate, said: “At 15 or 16 years old I think young people are responsible and know why they’re on the streets. What’s more, I ask them to come out onto the streets, but in a very peaceful way.”

Tens of thousands of high school students joined the demonstrations, while classes were disrupted. Some see a parallel with 2006, when youth protests forced the government to ditch a controversial employment law.

Eiffel Tower workers joined those on strike, forcing the monument to close early.

Tourists were among thousands of travellers affected by train and flight cancellations. Rail workers have voted to continue the stoppages, making Wednesday another key test of strength.

Polls suggest that although many French people accept the principle of pension reform, a significant majority believe the government’s plans are unfair and support the protests.