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France’s first big strike of 2016 snarls traffic, air travel

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(Bloomberg) — Taxis snarled traffic across France Tuesday and airlines canceled flights on the first big strike day of 2016. Taxi drivers, air traffic controllers and civil servants are all protesting, each with different demands.

Taxi drivers set fire to tires on the highway ring road around Paris, blocked the A7 highway near Marseille, and slowed access roads to Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports near the capital. Police arrested 20 taxi drivers in Paris, mostly near Porte Maillot on the western edge of the capital where riot police led a charge to displace a crowd of taxi drivers and extinguish burning tires, i-Tele television reported.

According to the police, moving groups of taxis periodically blocked parts of the “peripherique” ring road around Paris as well as access roads to the airports. Another group of taxis parked outside the Finance Ministry. There were similar protests in Toulouse and Marseille.

“There is a right to demonstrate, but violence is unacceptable,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said as he left a meeting in parliament. Nine taxi associations met with Valls around midday to discuss their demands.

See also: Junior doctors in England begin striking over new contract

The taxi drivers are protesting the proliferation of car services such as Uber. CGT Taxis issued a statement accusing the government of trying to “kill the profession with savage deregulation.” The union says 60,000 taxi jobs are at risk. A taxi strike last June 25 descended into violence as some Uber drivers were beaten and their cars burned.

France’s civil aviation authority asked airlines to cut their flights by 20 percent Tuesday as two unions representing air traffic controllers called for a 24-hour strike ending Wednesday morning to demand higher pay and pensions.

Aeroports de Paris, which manages Orly and CDG, said travelers should check with their airlines and travel to the airport by train.

Air France says it will guarantee all long-haul flights today as well as 80 percent of short-and medium-haul flights, though it warned that last minute cancellations can’t be excluded. It’s offering customers with tickets the option to fly later this week without cost. Lufthansa canceled 10 flights between Germany and France today and EasyJet canceled 35.

The largest strike Tuesday involves a call by the CGT, Force Ouvriere, and Sud for 5 million workers in schools, hospitals and local government to stay off work.

They are demanding a return to indexed pay increases that were interrupted in 2010, as well as an end to planned spending cuts in France’s health care system and local governments. “Created in an environment of austerity, they threaten to destroy public jobs, perturb public services and worsen the conditions of public workers,” FO said in a statement.

The SNUipp, an association of teachers’ unions, said a third of primary school teachers had heeded the strike call. The Education Ministry says 13 percent are striking.

The end of indexation has cost civil servants 8 percentage points in the purchasing power of their salaries, FO says.

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