Sabotage strikes French railways

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Overview map of the French TGV network and connections to other high-speed rail services in Europe.
Bernard Thibault, CGT
Image: Kenji-Baptiste Oikawa.

France's state-owned railway operator, SNCF, said the four main TGV lines serving Paris were sabotaged in what appeared to coordinated pre-dawn attacks. The acts of sabotage included a very large fire, said SNCF. TGV service faced extensive delays on Wednesday, which was exacerbated by the ongoing November 2007 strikes in France. SNCF says that 23% of its workers remain on strike.

"These actions are the work of hardliners and show total irresponsibility," said the SNCF, blaming militant strikers. Several smaller fires were started by stuffing a burning rag into cable storage boxes, disrupting the rail signals and forcing authorities to reroute service. The large fire damaged some 30 km (18.6 miles) of cable along the TGV Atlantic line.

Union leaders immediately distanced themselves from the sabotage and said the acts were "committed by cowards." Bernard Thibault, head of the Confédération générale du travail (CGT), said it was possible the acts were committed to discredit the unions.

According to Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau, who was speaking to France 2, said that President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered an investigation with the aim to punish the culprits "with the utmost severity."

Prime Minister François Fillon said, "Those responsible for these acts of sabotage no doubt believed they could interrupt the negotiations and the return to work that is under way at the SNCF," in a speech to the Parliament of France. "Well, I'm telling them they are very much mistaken," he continued.

Those responsible ... no doubt believed they could interrupt the negotiations ... Well, I'm telling them they are very much mistaken

—Prime Minister François Fillon

Negotiations with the unions began at 3:00 p.m. CET (UTC+1) on Wednesday. "There have been a number of advances, of announcements," said Didier Le Reste, who heads up CGT's rail division. "I trust railway workers to take decisions that are appropriate."

President Sarkozy said that while he will not back down on the issue of early retirements, he is willing to make other concessions to the unions. He also encouraged workers to return to work as negotiations have begun. "Everyone must ask whether it is right to continue a strike which has already cost users—and strikers—so dear," he said.

Meanwhile, teachers and other civil servants, who yesterday started a 24-hour work stoppage in their own protests against government reforms, returned to work. University students, however, continued disruptions in a protest against education reform. New today, was a street demonstration by tobacco shop owners, who are protesting a proposed smoking-ban in bars.


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