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Unions enter Day 2 of strikes over Macron's pension reforms

Some protests are violent; most metro lines are closed, traffic snarls clog streets, Eiffel Tower and parts of the Louvre closed

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A deserted Gare de Lyon train station in Paris on Friday. Union leaders were buoyed by the number of healthcare staff, railway workers and teachers who heeded the strike call.

Paris

FRANCE faced a second day of travel chaos and understaffed schools and hospitals on Friday, as unions said there would be no let-up in a strike against Emmanuel Macron's pension reforms until the president backed down.

Much of France ground to a halt on Thursday as transport workers went on strike - joined by teachers, doctors, police, firemen and civil servants. Smoke and tear gas swirled through the streets of Paris and Nantes as protests turned violent.

The strike pits Mr Macron, who took office in 2017 on a promise of opening up France's highly regulated economy, against powerful unions who say he is set on dismantling worker protections.

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There were cancellations of rush-hour trains into Paris on Friday; 10 out of 16 metro lines were closed while others ran limited services. As commuters took to their cars, traffic jams totalling 350 km clogged the roads in and around the capital, according to traffic app Styadin.

Rail workers extended their strike through Friday, while unions at the Paris bus and metro operator RATP said their walkout would continue until Monday.

Paris transport employee Patrick Dos Santos said: "We're going to protest for a week at least, and at the end of that week, it's the government that's going to back down."

The main trade unions were to meet on Friday morning to decide the next course of action.

The outcome depends on who blinks first - the unions who risk losing public support if the disruption goes on for too long, or the president whose 21/2 years in office have been rocked by waves of social unrest.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said deep reform was needed to put the generous pension system on a sustainable footing. "It would be much easier for us to do nothing, like others before us," he told French news channel, BFM TV. "We could see through this five-year term without enacting deep reform. But if every presidency reasons in this way, our children will not have an acceptable pension system."

The industrial action on Thursday brought tens of thousands of protesters into the streets in Paris and forced the closure of the Eiffel Tower and parts of the Louvre Museum.

Union leaders were buoyed by the number of healthcare staff, railway workers and teachers who heeded the strike call, and by the numbers who showed up at an anti-government march in Paris and other French cities.

Philippe Martinez, secretary-general of the CGT union, referring to the president's office, said: "There's a noise in the streets, I hope the windows of the Elysee are open."

Mr Macron wants to simplify the unwieldy pension system, which comprises more than 40 different plans. He says the system is unfair and too costly and that the French will have to work longer, though he appears reluctant to simply raise the retirement age of 62.

One alternative is to curb benefits for those who stop working before 64 and give a benefits boost to those who leave later. REUTERS