Strikes starting Wednesday night will disrupt flights to and from France, affect train routes in Europe and leave Paris virtually stripped of public transport - protests against President Nicolas Sarkozy's plans to trim special retirement packages for some workers.
The strikes, to last through Thursday, confront the popular president with his first real challenge since he took France's helm in May, and send him a clear message that deeper reforms could come at a cost.
The president himself appeared unfazed, saying Tuesday night he would push through the reforms regardless of public protest because "That's what I was elected for."
A union leader, meanwhile, threatened even more strikes if the government did not negotiate on the retirement rights.
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