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French union cuts power to thousands of homes in pensions protest

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Paris (AFP)

Striking workers at France's national grid operator cut off electricity to thousands of businesses and homes south of Paris on Tuesday, the latest in a string of power cuts over a planned pensions overhaul.

"The goal is to take things up a notch" ahead of the government's formal presentation of the pension reform on Friday, said Sebastien Menesplier, secretary general of the hardline CGT union's energy branch.

French officials have denounced the cuts which have affected thousands of homes across France since mid-December, warning that they could have dangerous consequences for ordinary citizens.

Grid operator Enedis said Tuesday's outages were reported at around 6:00 am (0500 GMT) and affected several suburbs south of the capital as well as Orly airport and the sprawling food and produce market at Rungis, a key source for retailers and restaurants.

Technicians were able to restore power after two hours, and Enedis said it would file suit for the "malicious acts."

"We take responsibility for the cuts and their consequences, including any complaints by Enedis management," Menesplier said.

His union also says it is blocking seven of the 11 equipment warehouses used by Enedis and natural gas network operator GRDF, preventing them from dispatching material to work sites.

The CGT has also warned it could begin limiting output at nuclear power plants and other sites as part of its efforts to force the government to abandon the pensions overhaul.

The union has been a leading force in a massive transport strike launched on December 5 that has disrupted train traffic and the Paris metro, spelling misery for millions of travellers.

Unions are protesting the plan for a single French pension system that would do away with dozens of special schemes that offer early retirement and other benefits to a range of employees, chiefly in the public sector.

Moderate unions got on board with the plan after the government dropped a proposal to push back the age for a full pension from 62 to 64.

The situation eased considerably Monday after striking metro workers, who have been going without pay, voted to suspend their industrial action.

But the CGT warned the dispute was "far from over".

Another day of demonstrations is planned for Friday.

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