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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

150,000 Protest French Pension Plan

PARIS -- At least 150,000 people, some braving snow, poured into streets across France on Saturday to protest government plans to reform the country's generous -- but overburdened -- pension system.

In an uncommonly broad show of unity, major unions and labor federations led an estimated 100 rallies across the country to defend a system that enables people to retire at 60. The demonstrations amounted to a shot across the bow for conservative Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who is expected to outline the proposed reforms Monday.

"Raffarin wants us to work until we're dead," read a banner in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, where police said there were about 20,000 protesters.

"They exploit us, they fire us -- it's up to management to pay our pensions," shouted marchers in southwestern Toulouse, where police said 13,000 people participated.

In Paris, more than 25,000 people marched amid snow flurries. In northern Lille, about 4,500 protesters endured up to 15 centimeters of snow.

In 1995, protests over pension reforms effectively shut the country down, leading to the ouster of Prime Minister Alain Juppe.

France's pension system is under pressure from a graying population. Experts say a cash crisis could cause the system to collapse by 2020 if nothing is done. Raffarin says he wants to include workers in the reform process. But he already has angered labor unions by pushing for corporate tax cuts and a softening of France's 35-hour workweek.

In France's pension system, contributions by workers go directly to today's retirees. As the population ages, there are fewer employees to contribute -- yet more beneficiaries. Many business owners say workers need to pay into the system longer to keep it afloat. Labor leaders say the answer is job creation.

But the economy is now growing at a sluggish rate of about 1 percent per year, and French companies such as food group Danone and aluminum producer Pechiney recently announced plans for layoffs.