A battle royal over figures is underway between the government and the trade unions in France. Trade unions claim some three million demonstrators heeded their call to protest proposed pension reforms while government officials place that number at one million

“The bet's paid off. Today we've got more protesters than on previous occasions,” Francois Chérèque of the CFDT union told reporters. Journalists and independent observers are of the opinion that at least two million pairs of feet thumped the pavements in the country in wide-ranging protests on Thursday.

Whatever the exact nature of the figures, the unions, flush with their success, have given out two new calls for action — demonstrations on October 2, just before the French Senate begins discussing the draft bill which has already been passed by the Lower House, and a nation-wide general strike on October 12. France will likely face another year of great social upheaval and unrest.

The government is clearly eager to downplay the extent of the strike and the widespread feeling that the reforms favour the rich at the expense of the poor. President Nicolas Sarkozy's positive poll ratings now hover at 30 per cent, making him the most unpopular President ever in the history of France's Fifth Republic.

“What is significant about the protests on Thursday is that they affected not only large towns but also very small villages. Take the Brittany island of Ouessant — a mere 700 souls live there. But at least 200 of them demonstrated. Now that is a very new phenomenon and I feel the protests will only grow,” Bruno Jeanbart of the polling agency Opinion Way told The Hindu.

Polls show the strike is supported by the majority of the French public, with a Viavoice poll showing 63 per cent of those questioned supporting the protests. The poll also indicated 45 per cent of people were disgusted by the ruling elite and the present socio economic situation.

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