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French unions call Paris metro strike as inflation bites

Labour unions have called a major one-day strike which threatens to paralyse Paris public transport Thursday, the latest industrial action to demand relief from the French government over soaring prices.

The RATP transport operator for the capital has warned of particularly severe disruptions for metro and suburban rail lines, with bus and tram services also impacted by the protest for higher wages.

Seven metro lines will be fully closed and another seven will only operate at peak hours, RATP announced.

Only lines 1 and 14 -- which are fully automated with no drivers -- would operate normally but risk becoming overcrowded, the RATP said.

There would also only be a partial service on suburban lines RER A and RER B which connect central Paris with Disneyland Paris and Charles de Gaulle airport respectively.

Unions have staged strikes across several sectors in recent weeks seeking pay hikes or increased hiring as spiralling energy costs feed into widespread inflation.

Union leaders are also hoping to step up pressure on President Emmanuel Macron as he prepares to revive a controversial pensions overhaul that would push back the official retirement age from 62 to 64 or 65.

A similar attempt sparked massive protests two years ago, before the government abandoned the overhaul amid the Covid-19 outbreak.

But the Paris transport strike did not spill over into other sectors, with only the hard-line CGT union calling for nationwide work stoppages.

CGT official Celine Verzeletti said she expected 150 to 200 demonstrations, similar to the turnout on October 18, in the midst of long-running strikes at oil refineries that led to petrol shortages.

Thursday's strike comes as commuters have grown increasingly frustrated with Paris public transport, with services still reduced since the Covid pandemic even though traffic levels have broadly returned to pre-crisis levels.

Former prime minister Jean Castex, who is set to take over as RATP chief in the coming weeks, on Tuesday told a Senate committee that one of his priorities would be human resources, including more hiring.

He is still to appear before another committee in the National Assembly on Wednesday. Both committees will then decide whether to approve his appointment.

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