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Thousands join French strike

Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's government has been challenged to increase public sector pay  

PARIS, France (Reuters) -- Thousands of French public sector workers staged a one-day strike over pay.

Midwives, tax collectors and police marched through Paris, while thousands gathered in the in cities across France to press the government into making a more attractive offer.

The strike increases the pressure on the Socialist-led government following the collapse of wage talks in January.

"Our salaries were frozen in 2000 and now we want raises," said Jean-Yves Blot, of the transport sector of the Force Ouvriere union as he marched in Paris on Thursday.

"There is no reason why civil servants should not profit from the economic recovery."

Around 10 flights to Paris from Marseille were cancelled as aviation workers joined the strike, which follows a protest in January that mobilised 280,000 people nationwide.

The protests have posed a challenge to Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's government, which has faced calls to share the fruits of France's robust economic growth with teachers, nurses and other public servants.

Underscoring the left's failure to turn France's shrinking dole queues and low inflation into a fund of votes, the conservative opposition did relatively well in municipal polls held last weekend despite losing the high-profile seat of Paris for the first time since 1871.

During the failed January talks French Civil Service Minister Michel Sapin had offered the country's 5.4 million state workers and four million retired public sector employees a three-year deal covering 2000 to 2002.

Negotiations fell down over Sapin's proposal for a 0.5 percent salary increase for 2000, with a powerful block of seven unions insisting on an additional 1.1 percent increase to keep wages in line with last year's 1.6 percent inflation rate.

The government argued that lower-than-expected inflation in 1998 and 1999 meant that automatic wage rises gave France's army of civil servants a 1.1 percent real increase in salaries for that period.

Reuters contributed to this report.

French Government
Force Ouvriere

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