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Brawls erupt as French strike demands higher wages

Brawls erupt as French strike demands higher wages

PARIS (Reuters) – Dozens of black-clad protesters clashed with police and smashed shop windows on Tuesday in Paris on the sidelines of a wage rally.

Regional train traffic fell by about half as several unions called a nationwide strike, seeking to capitalize on anger over decades of high inflation to expand weeks of industrial activity in oil refineries to other sectors.

“The question of wages is the first priority of the French people,” Philippe Martinez, head of the hardline union CGT, said before the peaceful march. “It is more than urgent,” he said.

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“At some point it was no longer manageable,” said Leticia Berthollet, one of the protesters, referring to a pay increase of just €10 a month at the furniture chain she works. “I am a single mother with two children. We tighten our belts … we have no choice. But it is not easy.”

As the rally erupted, Reuters reporters saw police accusations of protesters, while BFM TV showed footage of masked people in black smashing shop windows. A police source said six people were arrested.

Trade union leaders had hoped the government’s decision to force some back to work in fuel depots to try to restore the flow of fuel, a decision some say jeopardizes the right to strike.

But a poll by Elabe pollsters for BFM TV showed that only 39% of the public supported Tuesday’s call for a nationwide strike, while 49% opposed it, and growing numbers opposed the oil refinery workers’ strike.

The refinery workers’ strike has become one of the toughest challenges for President Emmanuel Macron since his re-election in May.

Education Department data showed that less than 10% of secondary school teachers went on strike on Tuesday, with lower numbers in primary schools. The call for a strike was observed in vocational schools, where teachers were opposed to the planned reforms.

On the transport front, Eurostar said it had canceled some trains between London and Paris due to the strike.

French public rail operator SNCF said traffic on regional connections was down 50% but there were no major disruptions on national lines.

With tensions rising in the eurozone’s second-largest economy, strikes have spread to other parts of the energy sector, including nuclear power giant EDF. (EDF.PA)as critical maintenance work on Europe’s energy supply will be delayed.

On Tuesday, a representative of the FNME-CGT union said the strikes were affecting work at nuclear power plants, including the Penly plant.

Prime Minister Elizabeth Bourne said on Sunday the strikes were taking place as the government prepared to pass the 2023 budget using special constitutional powers that would allow it to bypass a vote in Parliament.

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Additional reporting by Sudeep Kar Gupta, Dominic Vidalon, Benoit van Overstraten, Myriam Rift, Juliette Gabkeiro; Written by Ingrid Melander and Sudeep Kar Gupta; Editing by Jerry Doyle and Emilia Sithole Mataris

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