Scuffles break out as French strike to call for higher wages

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PARIS, Oct 18 (Reuters) - Dozens of black-clad protesters clashed with police and broke shop windows on Tuesday on the margins of a demonstration when several thousand people took to the streets of Paris to call for wage hikes as high inflation eats away their purchasing power.

11 people were arrested in Paris, the interior ministry said in the early evening, adding that 107,000 people nationwide followed the protest call from leftwing parties and some unions, including 13,000 in the capital. The hardline CGT trade union said 70,000 people took part in the march in Paris.

Regional train traffic was cut by about half as several unions called a nationwide strike, seeking to capitalise on anger at decades-high inflation to expand weeks of industrial action at oil refineries to other economic sectors.

"The question of wages is the French people's number one priority," the head of the CGT union, Philippe Martinez, said ahead of the march. "It's more than urgent," he said.

"At some point it's no longer manageable," Laetitia Berthault, one of the protesters said, pointing to a pay rise of just 10 euros per month from the furniture chain she works for. "I'm a single mother, two children. We tighten our belts ... we have no choice. But it's not easy."

As the march got more tense, Reuters reporters saw police charge at protesters while footage of hooded, black-clad people breaking shop windows emerged on social media.


Tuesday's protests, which have been promoted by opposition politicians for weeks, were small when compared to those of the yellow vest movement or the opposition to a rents reform during President Emmanuel Macron's first term as president.

But coming in the middle of a Europe-wide energy crisis, the strikes have become the president's stiffest challenge since his re-election in May.

As industrial action at oil major TotalEnergies (TTEF.PA) keeps weighing on petrol supplies for a fourth week with no clear end in sight, the government faces the risk wider walkouts could take down other parts of the infrastructure.

France's national grid operator RTE warned on Tuesday that prolonged strikes delaying the restart of some reactors at nuclear power group EDF (EDF.PA) could have "heavy consequences" for the country's electricity supplies over the coming winter.

Trade union leaders were hoping workers would be energised by the government's decision to force some of them to go back to work at petrol depots to try and get fuel flowing again, a decision some say put in jeopardy the right to strike.

But a survey by Elabe pollsters for BFM TV showed only 39% of the public backed Tuesday's call for a nationwide strike, while 49% opposed it, and growing numbers opposed the strike by oil refinery workers.

On the transport front, Eurostar said it was cancelling some trains between London and Paris due to the strike. French public railway operator SNCF said that traffic on regional connections was down 50% but national lines had no disruptions.

As tensions rise in the euro zone's second-biggest economy, strikes have spilled over into other parts of the energy sector, including nuclear giant EDF (EDF.PA), where maintenance work crucial for Europe's power supply will be delayed.

The strikes are happening as the government is set to pass the 2023 budget using special constitutional powers that would allow it to bypass a vote in parliament, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Sunday.

Additional reporting by Sudip Kar Gupta, Dominique Vidalon, Benoit van Overstraten, Myriam Rivet and Juliette Jabkhiro; Writing by Ingrid Melander and Tassilo Hummel; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Alexandra Hudson

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