Huge crowds join French strikes

Huge crowds have taken to the streets in France to protest over the handling of the economic crisis, causing disruption to rail and air services.

Unions said 2.5m workers had rallied to demand action to protect wages and jobs. Police put the total at 1m.  

Overall, the government estimated that a quarter of the country's public sector workers had joined the action, which was called by eight major French unions. The unions put the figure higher.

In Paris, police said some 65,000 demonstrators had joined a march from the Place de la Bastille towards the centre of the city.

There were reports of violent outbreaks on the outskirts of the protest as it reached central Paris, with dozens of youths throwing bottles and lighting fires in a main shopping street.

Police in riot gear charged the youths, pushing them back on to the Place de l'Opera where the crowds were gathering, but the situation remained volatile, AFP said.

The protests are against the worsening economic climate in France and at what people believe to be the government's poor handling of the crisis.

Opposition Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry said people were out in the streets "to express what worries them: the fact that they work and yet cannot make ends meet, retired people who just can't make it [financially], the fear of redundancies, and a president of the Republic and a government that just don't want to change policy".

The strike action disrupted transport services but did not cause the paralysis forecast by unions.

Regional trains and those in and around Paris were hit, and a third of flights from Orly airport were cancelled.

Paris's second airport was heavily hit by the strike, but flights out of the larger Charles de Gaulle hub were experiencing only short delays.

Schools, banks, hospitals, post offices and courts were also hit as workers stayed at home. Officials said just over a third of teachers and a quarter of postal and power company workers were on strike.

The walk-out has affected transport, education and postal services throughout the country and is the biggest one-day strike since Mr Sarkozy took up office. (BBC News)

Vocabulary

distruption:  trouble

to distrupt:  interrupted

union: an organization of workers

riot gear:  protective clothing and equipment worn by law enforcement officers in a  violent mob situation

volatile: unstable

to worsen: get worse

make ends meet: do well enough; survive

retired: no longer active in work or profession; pensioned´

redundancy: unemployment; job lose; dismissal

hub: center

walk out: strike

throughout: all over