French strikes, protests against cutbacks
PARIS (AP) — Strikes disrupted some French trains and schools on Tuesday as unions across France protested government austerity measures.
President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative government says the cost-cutting measures are essential to reducing the country's debts and allowing France to remain a pillar of the troubled eurozone.
Despite tensions, the turnout for strikes in 39 cities and 193 protest marches was lackluster.
In August, the French government announced a euro11 billion package of spending cuts and tax increases in a bid to ensure that France doesn't miss a vital pledge to cut its deficit.
Besides a new tax on higher earners and the closing of some loopholes, tax increases also included hikes on commodities used by many, including a 6 percent rise in the cigarette tax, higher taxes on hard alcohol like vodka and whiskey and a new tax on sugary soft drinks.
The SNCF train authority put striking workers at 20.5 percent, but trains kept rolling with only one in four high-speed trains canceled and international connections running as usual. Striking civil servants, not including teachers and hospital workers, were counted at 6.4 percent, authorities said, while little more than 3 percent of teachers stayed off the job.
The five protesting unions said that austerity measures hit some sectors and workers unfairly hard and that the rich should make more of a contribution.
The leader of the Communist-backed CGT union, Bernard Thibault, said Tuesday's action was meant to contribute to awareness "that it's urgent to provide the means to weigh on the government's hurtful decisions."
In Paris, the protest march drew 16,000 people, police said — 25,000 according to organizers.