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Archive for Thursday, June 17, 2004

Protesters cut power to Eiffel Tower

June 17, 2004

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— French power workers cut electricity to the Eiffel Tower and President Jacques Chirac's residence Wednesday to protest the government's plans to partially privatize state utilities in an effort to raise money.

Electricity was shut down at the presidential Elysee Palace, several government ministries and the Champs-Elysees avenue for about 15 minutes Wednesday afternoon. Some stores evacuated shoppers.

At the Eiffel Tower, tourists did not notice the outage because a backup electric plan kicked in, officials at the monument said.

The power outages affected homes and offices in western Paris. Power authorities said 52,000 clients were hit.

The CGT trade union said the outages were part of attempts to force the conservative government to drop plans to transform Electricite de France and Gaz de France -- known by their acronyms EDF and GDF -- from state agencies into limited companies.

The government has promised to keep at least 70 percent of EDF, but it hopes to raise billions of dollars for the heavily indebted French state by selling a minority stake in the power utility. Parliament began debating the plan a day earlier, with France's opposition left fighting the reform.

Protesters are worried that opening the door to outside investment will ultimately put utilities in private hands, threatening their jobs and retirement benefits.

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, whose private house in western France suffered an outage Tuesday, insisted the government would not back down.

"We will follow this reform through to the end," Raffarin told TF1 television. "Power outages here or there won't stop us."

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