Bikes, scooters flood Paris streets amid massive strike

Paris: France ground to halt with a strike that paralysed public transport services as millions took to the streets to protest President Emmanuel Macrons pension reforms.

School and transport workers, police, airport and hospital staff participated in the nationwide strike on Thursday which was the largest since Macron took office, Efe news reported.

The strike was called by unions who disagree with the president’s proposals to overhaul the pension scheme in favour of a points-based system.

Amid the widespread closedown of public transport, bicycles and scooters were the chosen means of getting around the French capital.

On the Paris subway, 11 lines were cancelled, three were operational with restrictions and only two lines were running normally.

Silvio Braz, a 21-year-old student, usually takes a train from Versailles to the Paris station of Montparnasse and from there moves around the city on the subway, but on Thursday he signed up to use an electric scooter.

“You go where you want, avoid traffic jams and taking a taxi,” he told EFE.

The young man was surprised at how smooth the traffic had been so far with almost no people in Montparnasse.

Ahead of the strike there were concerns train stations would be overcrowded which meant many Parisians opted to work from home or took the day off.

But to the surprise of many, train stations on Thursday have remained eerily quiet and empty.

Jean-Bernad Soulié, 59, also uses the subway daily but instead dusted off his bicycle to navigate the city.

“I have had it for a long time. I live west of the city,” this financier added.

“It took me half an hour to do five and a half kilometres.

“There were not many people.”

And despite the cold, Soulié found the change pleasant and has not ruled out using his bike more in the future.

Bicycle sharing company Vélib boosted its staff for the day to adapt to the increase in demand for bikes, and deployed more teams to replace and oversee the docking stations scattered around the city.

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Nearly 250 rallies have been called across the country, with the largest in the capital, which began at 2pm at Gare de l’Est and will end at Place de La Nation.

The unions CGT, FO, FSU, Solidaires, UNL and UNEF called the strike, saying the new pension system would “degrade the rights of everybody”.

“We are on strike to improve the current system,” union leader Philippe Martínez of the CGT told the BFMTV network on Thursday.

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner warned that millions would be marching and that some protests could turn violent.

“We know there will be lots of people in these protests and we know the risks,” he said on Wednesday.

“I have requested that systematically when there is rioting or violence we make arrests immediately.”

French Secretary of State for Transport Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said “we must be lucid” and prepare for the strikes to last longer, adding that he would meet with union leaders on Thursday in a bid to swiftly resolve the dispute.

A poll published by Le Figaro newspaper suggested the French public were heavily in favour of the unions, with seven out of 10 approving of the demonstrations.

More than 6,000 police and gendarmes have been deployed in Paris, with some shops in the area told to stay closed in case of violent clashes between protesters and law enforcement officials.

Further strike action has also been called for Friday.

(IANS)

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