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French unions target new day of protests against pension age change on Feb. 16 - union sources

FILE PHOTO: Private and public sector workers demonstrate over pension reforms in Nice, southeastern France, October 16, 2010, during a fifth day of a nationwide protest against pensions reform. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

French trade unions are planning a new day of strikes and demonstrations on Thursday, Feb. 16 against planned pension changes, trade union sources said on Wednesday.

Strikes have been taking place since mid-January as unions protest against the government's plans to extend the retirement age by two years to 64.

Sources at the CGT, CFTC and Unsa unions told Reuters that France's eight main unions have agreed on a fifth day of protest, following two protest days in January, one on Tuesday and one scheduled for this Saturday.

The sources said that unions are also considering organising further protest days on March 7 and March 8, when the government's pension reform bill will be debated in the Senate.

On Tuesday, the anti-change marches were attended by about 757,000 people nationwide, the interior ministry said, well below the 1.27 million on Jan 31 and 1.1 million on January 19.

The percentage of workers on strike in key companies like railway operator SNCF, utility EDF and oil major TotalEnergies has also dropped on the three strike days.

EDF said on Tuesday that 36.9% of its staff were on strike on Feb. 7, down from 40.3% on Jan. 31 and 46.5% on Jan. 19. Unions said that the strike percentage at SNCF over those three days fell from 46.3% to 36.5% and 25%.

Among teachers and civil servants, similar falls in strike participation were seen, ministry date showed.

Unions aim for massive participation on Saturday, which will be the first protest day on a weekend, when workers do not need to strike or take time off to march.

"On Saturday, everybody can take part in the demonstrations. It needs to be a popular, massive and festive event," Laurent Berger, head of the moderate CFDT union, said on BFM TV .

(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, Dominique Vidalon and Geert De Clercq, Writing by Geert De Clercq, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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