Fresh clashes as French protests continue

Fresh clashes broke out Wednesday between protesters and police in France as hundreds of thousands rallied in opposition to planned pension reforms, CNN reported. Cars were set alight and buildings damaged in the Paris suburb of Nanterre while a van was set ablaze in Lyon.

A week-long strike has caused chaos across France with a third of French gas stations running dry on Tuesday, according to the government. Air and rail travel has also been disrupted, with unions blockading access roads to Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Wednesday he had ordered police to break the blockades at fuel depots, with three peacefully reopened overnight.

“If it is not stopped quickly, this disorder which is aimed at paralyzing the country could have consequences for jobs by damaging the normal running of economic activity,” Sarkozy said in a statement.

The government is working to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 and make other changes to the pension system with Senate lawmakers due to vote on the proposals on Thursday. French senators stayed in the chamber until 3 a.m. Tuesday, working their way through roughly 1,000 amendments to the bill.

About 1.1 million people have demonstrated across the country, French media quoted police as saying. Unions put the figure at 3.5 million nationwide, with the rolling strike in its second week.

Sarkozy, the main proponent of pension reform, said it was “essential” and that “France will implement it.” The government contends that France cannot afford the earlier retirement payments.

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