France pension protests continue before vote

Another day of public sector strikes are underway in France to keep up the pressure ahead of a Senate vote on pension reforms.
Striking employees block the entrance of the Grandpuits refinery, east of Paris, on Thursday to maintain pressure on the government ahead of a Senate vote on pension reforms. ((Remy de la Mauviniere/Associated Press))

Protesters launched another day of public sector strikes in France on Thursday to maintain pressure on the government ahead of a Senate vote on pension reforms.

Students massed for a march through the centre of Paris as the crisis over the reforms showed no sign of abating.

Singer Lady Gaga cancelled her two Paris concerts, telling fans via her website "there is no certainty the trucks can make it to the Bercy for this weekend's shows."

Riot police were called in to break up a blockade at Marseille airport. The demonstration lasted just three hours, but caused widespread flight delays.

Similar scenes played out at the Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports in Paris, where protesters blocked roads leaving to the terminals. The blockades forced officials to cancel up to half the day's flights.

Violence broke out in Lyon, where police fired tear gas and chased rampaging youths who overturned a car near the town square Place Bellecour.

Wildcat protests blocked train lines around Paris on Thursday. Protesters in cars and trucks blocked several highways around the country, from near Calais in the north to the Pyrenees in the south, according to the national road traffic centre.

Oil workers, meanwhile, defied the government's demand to get back to work and end fuel shortages. The strikes have caused the pumps to run dry at a quarter of the country's gas stations, despite President Nicolas Sarkozy's orders to force open barricaded fuel depots.

Protesters are angry with the government's plan to raise the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62. The French government says raising the retirement age and overhauling the money-losing pension system is vital to ensuring that future generations receive any pensions at all.

French unions say the working class is unfairly punished by the pension reform and that the government should find money for the pension system elsewhere.

The Senate vote on the measure is scheduled to come Thursday, but the debate could drag on for another day or two.

Opposition Socialists proposed more than 1,000 amendments to the pension reform bill approved by the lower house of parliament last month, and the senators must debate and vote on each one. As of Thursday morning, they still had more than 200 left.

With files from The Associated Press