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Strikes paralyze Paris transport

  • Story Highlights
  • A series of strikes severely disrupts France's public transport network
  • The walkout began Wednesday night and was expected to last 24 hours
  • There are fears it could impact thousands heading to the rugby World Cup.
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From CNN's Jim Bittermann
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PARIS, France (CNN) -- France's public transportation network came to a halt Thursday as public sector workers staged a series of strikes in what is seen as the first big test for President Nicolas Sarkozy's government.

Subways, buses and trains were all out of service.

Subways, buses, and regional trains were all out of service, leading to traffic jams as commuters used their cars to get to work. Airlines were operating as usual, but some flights were delayed because employees were having trouble getting to work.

Many Parisians took advantage of the capital's free bicycle program. Others hopped on scooters or strapped on Rollerblades, and some workers simply took the day off altogether.

The walkout began Wednesday night and was expected to last 24 hours, but the backlog of services could mean the effects of the strike last much longer.

There are fears it could impact the thousands of rugby fans heading to Paris for Saturday's World Cup final between England and South Africa.

Most international train services were still running, however. About 80 percent of Eurostar train services between Paris and London were operating Thursday, as were about 60 percent of Thalys high-speed trains between Paris and Brussels, Amsterdam and Cologne.

In addition to the transport sector, power, gas, and some postal workers were also on strike.

The labor action is a response to Sarkozy's pension reform plans, which formed a large part of his election campaign. Because he was elected by a large majority, Sarkozy feels he has a mandate to stand firm in the face of the strikes.

"In France, we cannot have anymore a face-off between the state and the street," said economist Eloi Laurent. "Whatever the temptation of the government is, the government has to find a new way to deal with that. I think that (Sarkozy's) convinced of that."

Previous attempts to reform the pension plans have failed. In 1995, Prime Minister Alain Juppe backed down after three weeks of strikes in response to his efforts.

This time, however, the government has greater public support, and it is focusing its reforms on special pension plans which allow some workers -- mostly train drivers -- to retire as early as age 50.

About 1.5 million French workers qualify for this plan. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Melissa Gray in London contributed to this report.

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