It's been days of riots in France as striking workers have protested -- and burned cars and tires against, and smashed storefronts, and blocked roads to airports, and stopped deliveries of gas to fueling stations -- in opposition to a government proposal to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. Put it this way: Pravda was delighting in reporting that France is "on the brink of collapse." Today the French Senate approved the raise in the retirement age, a move that President Nicolas Sarkozy said was critical to keep the sinking pension system from collapsing and help France modernize to be more economically competitive. More:
"'History (will remember) who spoke the truth,' Sarkozy declared during a visit Friday to a factory in central France. 'What do you expect of a president? That he tells the truth and does what must be done.'
Hours before Friday's vote, riot police forced the reopening of a strategic refinery to help halt crippling fuel shortages.
The impact on the crucial energy sector was an ominous specter for whole sectors of the economy. Employment Minister Laurent Wauquiez said this week that 1,500 jobs have been lost daily since the strikes began in earnest on Oct. 12.
Friday's vote came after some 140 hours of debate, with senators casting ballots by hand into a large green urn, approving the bill 177-153. The measure is expected to win final approval by both houses of parliament next week.
Sarkozy's conservative government cut short the debate via a constitutional article that accelerates the process -- and gives the government final word on which of more than 1,000 amendments will get into the bill. He accused strikers of holding the French and their economy 'hostage.'"
"'It's a victory for a certain form of political courage,' declared Eric Woerth after the vote. The Minister of Labour, Public Accounts and the Civil Service displayed his satisfaction after the session: 'We spent...roughly 150 hours in the Senate convincing people and working on this reform,' he told FRANCE 24. 'France had to engage in reforms and we did it responsibly. It allows us to save our retirement system. We live longer, it's normal to work a bit longer'.
...On Thursday, French unions called for fresh strikes on October 28 and November 6.
'We want these days of strikes and demonstrations to be huge,' Nadine Prigent of the CGT union, told FRANCE 24. 'What we are saying to workers is that we can still stop these reforms.'
CGT union leader Bernard Thibault told RMC Radio on Thursday: 'There is no reason at all to stop. There is no other alternative while the government remains intransigent.'"
The BBC has more reaction from France. One resident: "France seems to be the only country in Europe where people want to retire as soon as they have left nursery school."
(Photo by Franck Prevel/Getty Images)