French government is at crossroad

A one-day strike disrupted public transport in France on Tuesday in protest at high unemployment and low purchasing power, putting pressure on the conservative government over its policies.

The size of the protests called by all of France's main trade unions will gauge public sentiment toward Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin after fours months in power, and test the unions' ability to bring workers out to challenge policy.

Commuters faced delays at railway stations and cancellations at airports, but many trains, buses and subway services were still running and fears of chaos appeared ill-founded. Some Parisians, used to such labor unrest, simply stayed at home.

Some international flights and many domestic flights were canceled at Paris airports and passengers faced delays of up to 90 minutes on some domestic flights.

High-speed international trains were running on time but rail traffic in France was cut by about half or two-thirds, rail officials said. Many cities faced transport problems and 150 protest marches were planned across the country.

Strikes by energy workers reduced power production, but no power cuts were expected for consumers. Many schools were expected to remain shut because of the absence of staff such as teachers and canteen workers.

Villepin, 51, has enjoyed a surge in popularity since he was appointed by President Jacques Chirac on May 31 to revive the government's fortunes after French voters embarrassed it by rejecting the European Union's constitution.

But the former foreign minister, who opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, faces growing problems.

Almost three in four French people supported the day of protests, according to an opinion poll, pointing to the difficulties Villepin faces trying to restore public confidence before presidential and parliamentary elections in 2007.

The government says the worst is behind the economy but many French people believe salaries and purchasing power are too low and unemployment too high.

The strikes follow violence in Corsica and protests over plans to privatize the SNCM ferry firm that have highlighted the numerous problems, Reuters reports.

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