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French pension strikes: President Macron calls for Christmas truce

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ABIDJAN, IVORY COAST: French President Emmanuel Macron called on transport unions to suspend strikes over pension reform during the Christmas holidays to avoid travel disruption.

"Strike action is justifiable and protected by the Constitution, but I think there are moments in a nation's life when it is good to observe a truce out of respect for families and family life," Mr Macron said during a news conference with Ivorian counterpart Alassane Ouattara.

Two weeks of nationwide industrial action against Mr Macron's planned overhaul of the pension system, including the scrapping of special regimes for sectors such as the railways, have crippled train services.

Despite calls by some unions to suspend strikes during the festive season, several rail worker groups are continuing stoppages as travellers head off on holiday.

Mr Macron said a strike pause would not mean unions had abandoned their demands but would show "the sense of responsibility and the respect owed to French people who are sometimes apart and wish to be reunited during this festive period".

National rail operator SNCF continued to run reduced services on Saturday, including half the usual number of its high-speed TGV trains, while half of metro lines in Paris were closed.

In Paris' Saint-Lazare train station, serving western France, Mr Jean Baptiste Beudon was relieved to see his train was not cancelled.

"We got confirmation two or three days before the departure, but we were still worried that we would not have our train," he told The Associated Press.

Ms Aurelie Lecerf, travelling with her children, said: "We arrived here at six o'clock this morning to get a train. The last one was full but we should get the next one."

Millions of French are expected to travel in the next few days for Christmas family reunions. Many have sought alternative modes of transport, using car-sharing services or bus companies, which have seen a surge in reservations.

Recent polls show a majority of French still support the strikes over fears they will have to work longer in return for lower pensions - but a majority are also in favour of the suspension of the protest during the Christmas holidays. - REUTERS, AP