Protests and strikes across France disrupt travel, schools

4
Protests and strikes across France disrupt travel, schools
A demonstrator holds a flare as French railway workers gather at the Gare de l'Est train station before marching in the streets of Paris, France, Thursday, March 22, 2018. Employees of the national railway company SNCF reject a government plan aimed at adapting the company ahead of opening the service to competition. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

PARIS (AP) — Trains, planes, schools and other public services across France were seriously disrupted Thursday as tens of thousands took to the streets to protest President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies.

Nearly 50,000 demonstrators protested in Paris to call for more investment in public services. The protest was mostly peaceful, although localized scuffles broke out between some protesters and riot police using tear gas and water cannons.

Confrontations between some protesters and riot police also took place in the western city of Nantes.

Airport authorities say 30 percent of flights to and from Paris were canceled. National train company SNCF said only 40 percent of high-speed trains and half of regional trains were running. Some schools and kindergarten were also closed.

Even the Palace of Versailles, one of France’s top tourist attractions, was closed Thursday because workers there went on strike.

Union leaders said the strikes were a warning to the government.

“We agree that we need to makes changes to public services, but not to restrain them. To improve them. We need more public servants,” Philippe Martinez, secretary general of the CGT union, told FranceInfo radio.

Public servants want better wages and are protesting against the planned elimination of 120,000 jobs by 2022, SNCF employees also are rejecting a government plan aimed at adapting the rail company ahead of opening the service to competition.

“If we are not heard … there would be calls for strikes and in that case, very few trains would run,” said Julien Cabanne, a union official who came to Paris to protest.

SNCF unions have scheduled a series of strikes in April, May and June.

The Paris Metro was running normally, but suburban trains were affected by the strike.

Nirman Djeacoumaran, who lives in the Paris suburbs, told The Associated Press there was just one train per hour on his train line.

At Paris Orly airport, passenger Noemie Danican had just learned her EasyJet flight to Toulouse, in southern France, was canceled.

“I have no idea what’s going to happen. This is going to be very difficult. Very, very difficult,” she said.

______________

Jeffrey Schaeffer in Paris contributed to the story.