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France still under strike tension with increasing violence

October 21st, 2010 3 comments

Environ 1 200 personnes ont convergé vers la Guillotière. Certaines en ont profité pour se défouler / Stéphane Guiochon (Le Progrès)

So “la révolution” continues. More like an increasingly violent rebellion lead by stubborn individuals who do not seem to understand the principles of economics. But la vie continue, and the government will eventually win. I certainly understand frustration with Sarkozy and his administration, as they have not been exactly stragetic in their communications, and financial corruption within undermines their image (like l’affaire Bettencourt, etc.) but the underlying truth is that retirement reform is needed, and 62 is quite a modest start. Here is a guide about how the reform will likely affect you.

President Sarkozy is still planning on facilitating the labor market to boost employment, so those concerned with unemployment are right to raise their voices, but they should not be disrupting the economic activity and well-being of the country; there are other means of communication than provocation in the street and taking the country hostage. For now, here is an update on the situation…

Violent incidents continue between protesters and police in Lyon’s downtown Presqu’île district, and you can see more coverage of this here and here by the local Lyon newspaper Le Progrès. The TCL public transport system is still shut down in the downtown area, for security measures. According to a Lyon Le Progrès poll, 65% of respondents think that the strike movement will not end soon. You can see pictures of the Lyon action here.

Meanwhile in Marseille, the airport was blocked this morning by strikers in addition to other disturbances throughout the city (public transport and ports blocked, garbage not collected…pictures from Marseille courtesy of BBC.) This action and others have disrupted daily life for many French, and even Lady Gaga has decided to postpone her Paris shows from Oct. 22-23 to Dec. 19-20. On the Paris RER suburban rail network, there were spontaneous disruptions throughout Thursday despite overall improvements on the RATP public transport system (with some disruptions, look under “traffic”) and the SNCF national railway system (though there are still delays). Fuel shortages still persist, with over 25% of gas stations empty, almost 2000 more short on products and this could disrupt Toussaint (All Saints) vacation weekend Nov. 1. But the situation is gradually improving with government forces intervening to gain access to fuel depots.

Meanwhile, national buffoon and desparately in need of a haircut, Bernard Thibault (leader of the CGT union) has called for a new day of strikes next week. They are planning to announce the 1st day for next week, either Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, and the 2nd day of strikes would be either Saturday Oct. 30 or Sat. Nov. 6. Now they’re striking on the weekends, that’s just great. If they strike on the holiday weekend, there just might be an insurrection against the SNCF.

Students, both university and high school, are becoming increasingly involved in the strikes and demonstrations (and violence), with hundreds of schools blockaded throughout the country and up to 10 universities blocked as well.

What is happening in the government?

They are trying to accelerate the reform currently being debated in the Senate, with the text to be reviewed by Friday evening, 254 amendments awaiting validation at the time of publication, and a commission of 7 National Assembly Deputies and 7 Senators, to vote on the entirety by next Thursday Oct. 28th at the latest. They have shown a willingness to discuss certain measures, notably a point system for pensions, to please unions like the CFDT, but this does not satisfy everyone.

Sarkozy remains firmly opposed to violent demonstrators, saying “they will not have the last word” and almost 2000 have been arrested since Oct. 12.

The New York Times covers this story well.

I’ll keep you updated.

Oct. 20 update on French strikes: transport, fuel, schools

October 20th, 2010 2 comments

Following yesterday’s big day of “action” around the country against the retirement reform proposals, the Paris metro and bus system is running on normal schedule, mostly (“normal ou quasi normal” according to their site). But check the “traffic” part and you’ll see that suburban and Ile de France regional trains are partially disrupted, often running at 50%. Also, 30 flights were cancelled this morning from Paris Orly.

Lyon’s TCL transport system is disrupted today, with no metro on the Presqu’ile downtown area due to clashes. Try to stay out of that area. You can get more inside info on Lyon at Le Progres (Lyon newspaper) site.

There are some SNCF train disruptions in France and with connecting trains to other countries (like no overnight trains tonight between France & Italy and France & Germany…). TGV’s to and from Paris are running 2 out of 3, and TGV’s outside of Paris at 50%. More details on that site, France 24’s survival guide and Figaro’s guide.

These past couple days have been marred by violence in Lyon and parts of Paris area, among other places, between youth and police. France 24 reports on this. They also have some pictures from Lyon here.

President Sarkozy is calling for the strikers to “be responsible” and recognized that although the reform is difficult, it is necessary, and his government had included special measures for specific work cases such as those who started work early and those in particularly arduous jobs. The reform vote has been delayed until Thursday, and a poll by Figaro finds that nearly 70% want to see the reform passed as soon as possible. (Note: Figaro is more conservative. Nouvel Obs is more leftist and has a poll where 62% of respondents want to continue the strikes).

Meanwhile Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux is firing back at thugs who erupted in violence yesterday and today, saying they will not be left unpunished.

As thousands of gas stations have run dry, the government is now freeing up fuel depots with force of special riot police similar to a SWAT team, but some remain blocked by extremist strikers who like taking the country hostage for their own interests. Flights in and out of France are said to be carrying enough fuel for the return journey.

High school students and youths are still calling for protest today, even though the reform is in their interest. They should be screaming “we don’t want a pension” as they strike. I understand concerns about unemployment, but that can be addressed by other measures. They are mad at Sarkozy for what they see as extravagance and wastefulness on the part of the government, which is in part true. But that does not mean pension reform is not necessary. BBC looks into this with an insightful special called “children of the revolution.”

France under terror threat alert in wider European plot

September 28th, 2010 2 comments

This is not to scare my readers but to inform them. For the past couple weeks, the threat alert in France has been high as intelligence agencies from the US and EU have picked up on widespread and credible hints at a terrorist plot of coordinated attacks on targets in Europe, particularly in France. This in the wake of French nationals being kidnapped in Niger by Al-Qaida affiliates and bomb alerts against the Eiffel Tower, and French transport systems.

French weekly Le Point talks about how the French government is communicating on this issue, with predictable criticism coming from left and right about how they are creating panic. But according to French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux, there is a “real threat of an imminent attack.” And Police Director Frédéric Péchenard adds that “we have serious indications from reliable intelligence sources that there is a risk of a big attack.”

Meanwhile, the CIA is upping drone attacks of militants in Pakistan in an effort to hamper terrorist threats against European targets.

As the Wall Street Journal stated:

“…Last week, France stepped up its level of vigilance over what was thought could be an imminent al Qaeda threat. Authorities said that they had uncovered a suicide bombing plot to attack the Paris subway linked to al Qaeda’s North African affiliate. They said the threat might be connected to France’s recent vote to ban the wearing of burqas, the head-to-toe garb worn by the most conservative Muslim women…”

The US Embassy in Paris has issued this warning against attacks.

Authorities are trying to prevent a repeat of the 1995 Paris metro bombings and related scares or something even worse.

Louis Caprioli, former anti-terrorist intelligence chief at DST (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire) (former French intelligence services agency, now part of the larger DCRI), was interviewed by Le Figaro here below talking about how there is a real threat notably from Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb including Algerian networks that use women suicide bombers.

Stay alert, stay safe, but don’t let this interrupt your daily life, of course. Il faut vivre.

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