French Senate Approves Raising Retirement Age Despite months of strikes and demonstrations, France's Senate approves a bill that will raise the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62.
NPR logo French Senate Approves Upping Retirement Age To 62

French Senate Approves Upping Retirement Age To 62

France's Senate approved an overhaul of the state pension system that would raise the retirement age to 62 amid massive nationwide protests aimed at stopping the change.

The Senate approved the measure by a vote of 177-153 following some 140 hours of debate. The lower house, the National Assembly, had already passed the overhaul and the two chambers were set to approve a reconciled bill next week.

Meanwhile on Friday, French police dislodged a blockade at Paris' main oil depot.

The changes have been pushed by President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has argued that revitalizing the nation's money-losing pension system is crucial to ensuring that future generations receive anything at all. It's a choice many European governments are facing as populations live longer and government debts soar.

French unions say retirement at 60 is a hard-earned right, and that the working class is unfairly punished by the proposed change. They fear the overhaul will herald the end of an entire network of welfare benefits that make France an enviable place to work and live.

As protests became more violent in the past week and refinery workers shut down oil refineries, thousands of filling stations ran dry. The government on Friday ordered oil companies to pool fuel to ensure gas stations are stocked, particularly for this weekend as nationwide school vacations begin.

Sarkozy ordered regional authorities to intervene and force open depots, accusing the strikers of holding the French economy and citizens "hostage."

Helmeted officers in body armor descended overnight on the main Granpuits depot in Paris, where workers had been camped for 10 days in front of the site, blocking access. The site is run by oil giant Total SA.

The Interior Ministry said the operation succeeded "without incident," but the CGT union said three workers were injured in the melee. Emergency workers brought stretchers to the depot in Grandpuits east of Paris, the closest source of gasoline supplies to the capital.

The head of the national petroleum industry body says it is struggling to import fuel to make up for the shortfall.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon convened oil industry executives Friday to look at the country's lagging fuel supplies, which have been disrupted by strikes at depots and oil terminals. Fillon said it will take "several more days" for a return to normal.

Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said there was no question of rationing gas supplies.

Police vans and water cannon trucks stood ready Friday in Lyon, where city workers cleaned up scattered glass from rampages the day before. Police used tear gas and water cannons against youths hurling bottles and overturning cars.

"It is not troublemakers who will have the last word in a democracy," Sarkozy told local officials in central France, promising to find and punish rioters.

The protests have also blocked hundreds of ships at the Mediterranean port of Marseille, and even forced Lady Gaga to cancel Paris concerts.

Even with the Senate's vote on Friday, unions were preparing to continue their labor actions, with two more days of strikes and protests -- on Oct. 28 and Nov. 6.

"The protests are not stopping. We just have different views on how to proceed," Jean-Claude Mailly, a leader of the Force Ouvriere union, told RMC radio.

The final text was expected to be adopted next week by both houses.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report