Long—suffering French commuters were bracing for another day of traffic tie—ups and crippled public transport, as French unions prepared a nationwide strike on Thursday to protest President Nicolas Sarkozy’s pension reform.

At the heart of the reform, which has already passed the National Assembly, is the gradual increase of the retirement age from 60 to 62 by 2018.

The reform is scheduled to be brought before the Senate on Thursday, and could become law by the end of next month.

Railway workers will begin the strike by walking off their jobs late Wednesday. The national rail network SNCF said it expects at least half of its scheduled high—speed TGV trains and only one of four regional trains to be operating during the strike.

In addition, public transportation is expected to be disrupted in Paris and nearly 80 other cities.

The French civil aviation agency DGAC said on Wednesday that half of all scheduled flights would also be scrubbed at Paris’s Orly Airport, with 40 per cent cancelled at the capital’s other major airport, Charles de Gaulle.

Other public services, such as those provided by schools and post offices, are also expected to be affected by the job action.

The strikes will be accompanied by mass street protests throughout the country.

Unions are hoping to mobilise at least as many protesters as in the last nationwide protest against the reform on September 7, when they said more than 2.5 million people took to the streets. Police estimates were significantly lower.

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