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Originally published November 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 14, 2007 at 1:46 PM

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Transport strikes paralyze France, stranding locals and travelers

Striking transport workers halted public transport across much of France today, idling trains, buses and subways. Parisians walked, biked or...

The Associated Press and Seattle Times Travel staff

Information

SNCF (French railway): For information (French only) on train cancellations: www.sncf.com

Eurostar trains: www.eurostar.com

Striking transport workers halted public transport across much of France today, idling trains, buses and subways. Parisians walked, biked or skated to work or endured traffic jams that extended for miles, and travelers were stranded.

The strikes are a pivotal standoff with President Nicolas Sarkozy over his bid to pare down labor protections.

Workers for the national rail network and Paris public transport authority voted to extend their strike into Thursday. They are threatening an open-ended strike, with daily votes on whether to continue, as they try to hang on to special retirement benefits that Sarkozy wants trimmed.

The Eurostar high-speed train between London and Paris was running today, although some service may be curtailed. Its new terminal in central London, the historic and massively renovated St. Pancras station, opened this morning. For air travelers, getting to and from airports to city centers, especially in Paris, is difficult with taxis and shuttle buses jammed since commuter trains/buses aren't running.

Unlike the scattered strikes that have long dogged France — including an Oct. 18 transport strike seen as a warning volley against Sarkozy's reforms — this labor action and other strikes planned in the coming weeks could be a decisive test of Sarkozy's campaign promise to overhaul France to make it more competitive.

"I support the idea of strikes, but not this strike," said 25-year-old Xavier Michel, who skated five miles in Paris to his advertising job. This strike, he said, hurts "the little guys like us" who are "basically taken hostage."

The strikes started Tuesday night when the SNCF rail authority halted service on most lines. Only 90 of 700 trains were running. Paris transit workers joined in today. Gas and electricity workers went on strike, too, threatening targeted blackouts to illustrate their grievances over the retirement reform.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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