Sarkozy accepts union talks offer

Hopes of an end to the French transport strike rose today after President Nicolas Sarkozy accepted a union offer for talks.

Hopes of an end to the French transport strike rose today after President Nicolas Sarkozy accepted a union offer for talks.

As train passengers across the country – and bus and Metro users in Paris - suffered a second day of chaos the president insisted he wanted a quick solution.

However, Mr Sarkozy insisted that his controversial plan to end special retirement benefits which sparked the strikes must remain intact.

The walkouts represent the first major union challenge to his plans to modernise France.

Mr Sarkozy agreed to an offer by the powerful CGT union for talks to find a solution, but he also said that the heart of the reform was not negotiable.

“I sincerely believe we have the possibility to get out of this with our heads held high,” Employment Minister Xavier Bertrand said today.

Both the state train authority, the SNCF, where workers began striking from Tuesday night, and the Paris transport system said conditions had improved today.

The SNCF said 150 fast trains out of 700 were running , compared with 90 the day before, while the RATP, which governs Paris public transport, said that three subway lines were virtually shut down while traffic varied on other lines.

The streets of Paris were clogged with pedestrians and those on bicycles making their way to the office. The city’s new rent-a-bike service was especially popular.

This was the second transport strike in less than a month. An walkout on October 18 was meant as no more than a warning. The current strike, with daily votes on whether to continue, was meant to wear the government down.

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