Tehran Times (Link) - AP (September 25, 2010)
French authorities estimated nearly 1 million protesters filled the streets Thursday to try to force President Nicolas Sarkozy to drop his plan to raise the retirement age two years to 62, while strikes also disrupted airports, train stations and schools for the second time this month.
The protest movement has been a big test for Sarkozy, who, like other European leaders, has struggled to convince his country of the need for cost-cutting and scaling back generous social benefits after the Greek debt crisis scared markets and sapped confidence in the entire 16-nation euro currency.
France’s powerful unions consider retirement at 60 to be a near-sacred right, and more than 230 demonstrations stretched from the southern port city of Marseille to Lille in the north. Some protesters carried signs demanding early retirement for Sarkozy, whose dismal approval ratings hover in the mid-30s.
With stakes high, the government and unions disagreed about the size of the turnout — even more so than usual.
The Interior Ministry said the protest movement had lost steam since the last day of protests Sept. 7, with 997,000 protesters in the streets, a drop of about 11 percent. But unions said the movement grew to nearly 3 million protesters, up from what they said was about 2.5 million last time.