French reail workers strike

Railworkers on the French state-run system went on strike Monday evening and the rail authority predicted major disruptions to national lines and &to=' target=_blank>Paris area commuter trains.

The open-ended &to=' target=_blank>strike at the SNCF rail network, which started at 8 p.m. (1900 GMT), was one of the biggest protests in a week of demonstrations planned by groups including teachers, researchers and Paris transit workers.

About two in five high-speed TGV trains were expected to operate as normal, while 80 percent of international trains would run, the SNCF said.

Four unions representing train drivers called the walkout to protest restructuring, job cuts, pay and what they see as creeping privatization of the train operator.

Unions went ahead with the strike despite an assurance from the transport minister that the government has no intention of privatizing the rail network.

"I tell you once again, in stronger terms, there is no plan to privatize the SNCF," Transportation Minister Dominique Perben said in a letter submitted to union leaders, reiterating earlier comments. The walkout marked France's fifth public transport strike this year.

SNCF President Louis Gallois also insisted that the unions' privatization fears were unfounded.

"Nobody in France is calling for the privatization of SNCF," he told France Info radio. He added that reports of planned line closures being circulated across France were "pure invention."

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