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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Strike Intensifies Grip on France

PARIS -- Suburban commuters took tour boats on the Seine and rode in hundreds of buses contracted by the government Monday in the midst of a massive walkout by transport and other public workers, while Prime Minister Alain Jupp? called an emergency meeting of the Cabinet.


The 11-day-old strike has idled French trains, buses and subways, unnerved millions of commuters and hobbled the economy.


There was no indication of what was being considered at the emergency Cabinet meeting. Until now the government has insisted that it would not reconsider its planned overhaul of the debt-ridden social security system that is at the root of the walkout.


Jupp? is also facing his first vote of confidence in Parliament on Tuesday, but it poses no threat to the government given its overwhelming majority in the National Assembly.


Although the prime minister has remained silent, several members of his government raised the possibility over the weekend that President Jacques Chirac could dissolve the National Assembly and call early legislative elections to break the impasse.


"If a certain number of organizations do not want to respond to the dialogue being offered by the government, it would then be evident that they would provoke a political crisis," said Defense Minister Charles Millon.


As the strike spread and there seemed little chance of a quick settlement, financial markets became increasingly concerned that the strike could spread to the private sector.


By late afternoon, the CAC 40 Index of most actively traded stocks had lost 2.5 percent of its value.


On Sunday night Chirac, speaking during a visit to Benin to attend a summit of French-speaking nations, said he would not back down. "France is at a crossroads," he said. "This is the path, the path of reforms that have been put off for far too long."


The government wants to increase taxes and extend the number of years employees must pay into the social security system before they can retire with full benefits to slash a 322-billion franc ($65-billion) budget deficit.


Public transportation was almost nonexistent in the Paris region again Monday, but service in provincial cities was reported nearly normal.


Long-distance train service was limited to a few trains to London and Brussels, all 13 lines of the Paris subway remained closed and Air France personnel called a strike for Thursday.


A record 560 kilometers of traffic jams snarled highways leading into the capital, authorities said.


In an effort to deal with the chaos, the government leased some 1,700 buses to take commuters from the suburbs to key points in the capital. It is also providing about 10 "bus boats" that will shuttle up and down the Seine in Paris. And the company that runs the capital's "Bateaux Mouches" tour boats has offered free shuttle service.


The emergency transportation measures have angered Workers Force, one of two major unions spearheading the strike. It said the government was attempting to "break the back of the movement" by arranging alternative transportation.


The strike continued to spread among postal workers, with 107 of the country's 137 sorting centers affected by the walkout, including 57 that were totally blocked.