French rail system returns to normal after strike

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PARIS, Oct 21 (Reuters) - Rail traffic in France largely returned to normal today after days of disruption caused by a strike over pension rights.

Metro services in Paris, which had been badly hit by the strike, were back to normal. Bus, tram and suburban rail services were also running full services, Paris transport authority RATP said.

Rail operator SNCF said intercity services were running normally but there were still isolated disruptions in the Ile de France region around Paris and in Marseille in southern France.

Transport workers brought rail services to a halt on Thursday in a nationwide strike over plans to change special pension rules that allow some workers to retire as early as 50. Some disruptions continued on Friday and yesterday.

Labour Minister Xavier Bertrand, who is in charge of the dossier, meets unions for further talks next week.

The dispute, which unions say could flare up again if no progress is made in the talks, has been the first big test of President Nicolas Sarkozy's drive to reform the economy.

The government wants to put state employees paying into so-called ''special regimes'' on an equal footing with civil servants and private sector workers, increasing their contribution period from 37.5 years to 40 years.

The special pension regimes were introduced after World War Two, mainly for workers in physically demanding jobs. They are running deficits that will cost the taxpayer an estimated 7billion dollars this year.

REUTERS SKB RAI1820

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