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Prime Minister Agrees To Meet Labor Bosses But French Chief Says Social Security Overhaul Is Urgent

Prime Minister Alain Juppe, criticized for dodging the unions that have organized a crippling 17-day strike, broke his silence Sunday night and agreed to meet with labor bosses to end the crisis.

In a significant concession to striking railway workers, Juppe said they would still be able to retire with full benefits at age 50.

“I’m not closed to any solution, to any proposal” to end the strike, Juppe said on state TV. He offered to meet with union leaders today, and the invitation was accepted.

Juppe had ignited the wrath of union bosses by ignoring their demands for a face-to-face meeting.

While holding out an olive branch, Juppe insisted Sunday that his planned overhaul of France’s cradle-to-grave social security system is “urgent, because if we don’t do it, we risk an end to payments.”

Marc Blondel, head of the powerful Workers Force union, confirmed he would meet with Juppe today. But he said the strike would continue and the union would proceed with plans to rally 2 million people in sweeping nationwide protests set for Tuesday.

Juppe said last week that if union leaders can muster 2 million protesters, he will give up the attempted overhaul of social security.