Mass Strikes Bring Paris To A Halt

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FRENCH Minister of Labour, Xavier Bertrand has told the striking rail unions that they must return to work before he will agree to talks.

He urged the union leaders to order a return to work, and an end to the strikes in defence of the right to retire at 50 on a full pension.

‘One can’t have a strike and negotiations at the same time’, he told viewers during a France 3 television interview.

Meanwhile yesterday saw an estimated 250 kilometres of early morning traffic jams in the Paris region as the rail and public transport action continued into its third day with the strike being strongly followed in the capital and all the major centres countrywide.

The SNCF company trade unions had asked for a Friday meeting with the minister to get more information on a framework for future negotiations, said the CGT railworkers secretary general.

The federations involved in the call were the CGT, CFDT, CFTC, FO, Unsa and CFE-CGC.

SUD Rail, the second largest and most militant union at the SNCF rail company said its pension rights are not negotiable, and called on its members ‘to massively reject this “play acting” (ie the plans to drop national pensions action and make concessions to the government), at the next mass meetings’.

Across the country railworkers decided at their mass meetings to continue the strike into the weekend.

The manoeuvrings of the union leaders with the government were widely condemned by strikers.

Meanwhile, Bruno Julliard, the president of Unef, the main national students union, has called for students to vote for strike action.

He said: ‘We are calling for the mobilisation in the universities to continue and be intensified with massive participation in general assemblies and voting for strike action.’

He spoke after yesterday’s early morning attacks by the CRS riot police on student occupations at Strasbourg, Nantes, Sorbonne and Montpellier universities.

• Second News Story

BHUTTO CALL FOR ‘PEOPLE’S REVOLUTION’

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto called for a ‘people’s revolution’ yesterday and said she will hold a protest march against General Pervez Musharraf’s eight-year rule.

Musharraf swore in a new caretaker government yesterday, but the new regime was swiftly rejected by Bhutto.

Speaking hours after a seven-day detention order on her was lifted, Bhutto said the new administration, headed by a close Musharraf ally, was unacceptable and vowed to pursue her bid to force the military ruler from office.

Bhutto, who had been staying at an aide’s house in Lahore since Tuesday, said: ‘This caretaker government is not acceptable.’

Warning that ‘town after town is falling to the Taleban,’ Bhutto said she was in talks with key political leaders, including exiled premier Nawaz Sharif, to try to form a united opposition front to replace the government.

John Negroponte, number two to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, arrived yesterday. He was expected to meet Musharraf.

Washington has been signalling its growing concerns that its plan for a Musharraf-Bhutto alliance had come to nought.

Bhutto on Thursday had said that Musharraf had gone ‘off script’ in relation to an agreement made before her return.