PARIS — Police removed striking rail workers from train lines in 10 rail centers across France on Saturday, as authorities scheduled extra buses and planes to take thousands of winter vacationers home this weekend.
On the 17th day of a national train strike, police cleared the tracks in Chambery, railhead for Alpine ski resorts, as well as Paris, Marseilles, Metz in the east and Caen on the English Channel coast.
Authorities, expecting the most serious transport disruption since the strike began, have added some 3,500 buses and more than 300 extra plane flights to get holiday travelers home in time for the school term on Tuesday.
Force Was Used
Trade unions said police had used batons to remove railway workers in the southern town of Valence, south of Lyon, but no injuries were reported.
Police surrounded the station at Chambery, a flash point of the strike, to keep strikers away and allow the day's first high-speed train to leave for Paris in the early afternoon.
Security Minister Robert Pandraud said police would not hesitate to clear rail tracks, saying the government had a duty to assure a minimum level of service.
Premier Jacques Chirac, who has yet to speak out on the crisis, summoned four senior ministers to his office Saturday morning to discuss the strike, the fourth such meeting this week.
'Signs of a Thaw'
Chirac's spokesman, Denis Baudouin, said the ministers had reported "signs of a thaw" in the strikers' determination.
The state-run SNCF railway authority said that, under its skeleton service, one in four mainline trains was running from Paris Saturday and one in two high-speed trains.
Strikers in the northwestern town of Rennes voted to return to work Saturday, but other depots remained behind the stoppage.
The government, which has already given in to the strikers' demand to cancel a new pay scale giving greater weight to merit payments, refuses to discuss increasing their salaries beyond the 1.7% already offered.
In a separate dispute, the government signed an accord with the Communist-led CGT trade union Saturday, aimed at ending a 25-day-old seamen's strike that has severely disrupted French docks.
Secretary of State for Maritime Affairs Ambroise Guellec told reporters that the CGT signed the accord after all-night negotiations, but it still had to be approved by the strikers.