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Disabled protestors demand 'dignity' on Paris streets

Latest update : 2008-03-29

Thousands of handicapped citizens took to the streets in the French capital Saturday calling for better living conditions, one week after President Nicolas Sarkozy promised a 5% increase in their allowance.

PARIS - Thousands of disabled people staged a procession in Paris on Saturday to press for a "decent" income, saying low benefits trapped them in poverty.


Demonstrators from across France moved along a 2 km route chanting slogans such as "yes to dignity, no to charity" or "this could happen to you too". Organisers said 30,000 people attended, police said 16,500.


"It's good to be here. All we want something decent, so we can live," said Jean-Marie Rouvin, an elderly polio sufferer taking part in an electric wheelchair.


French President Nicolas Sarkozy last week announced a 5 percent increase in the adult handicapped allowance, keeping a promise made during last year's presidential elections.


But organisers of Saturday's protest said the resulting 30 euros ($47) a month increase fell far short of the amount needed and rejected any move to tailor payments to specific conditions.


"We need a minimum revenue for existence for people who have a handicap, whatever it might be," Eric Molinier, vice-president of the French Paralysis Association, told France Info radio.


Some 810,000 disabled people who are unable to work receive an allowance of 628.1 euros per month, but this is below what the campaigners say is the poverty threshold for a single person -- 817 euros.


They want the allowance doubled to at least the same level as the standard minimum national wage of 1,280 euros a month.


A fleet of five aircraft, 13 trains and 700 buses was hired by organisers to bring people in wheelchairs or suffering from other physical or mental impairments to the demonstration, for which police closed a wide stretch of boulevard leading up to the Paris Opera.


A smaller delegation handed in a petition at the presidential palace.


Sarkozy's predecessor Jacques Chirac introduced a law on disability in 2005, but the march's organisers say it failed to address their concerns over resources and that the sums involved barely allowed people subsistence living standards.


French Labour Minister Xavier Bertrand said on Friday that the planned demonstration was a sign of "legitimate expectations" and agreed to meet its organisers next week.


Sarkozy is due to host a national disability conference on June 10 when he will outline government plans, aides said.


In a separate protest, several thousand people marched through a different area of Paris to complain about plans to increase the standard duration of social security contributions, needed to qualify for a pension, to 41 years.

Date created : 2008-03-29