PARIS — Despite vocal protests, French lawmakers approved President Nicolas Sarkozy's sweeping retirement reforms Wednesday, including a highly contested measure to increase the retirement age from 60 to 62.
The National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, voted 329-233 to pass the broad retirement package, clearing a crucial first legislative hurdle and sending it onto the Senate for debate starting Oct. 1.
The retirement reforms are one of the pillars of Sarkozy's conservative agenda and a prime target of France's powerful unions. Wednesday's vote puts France on track to become the latest European Union country to require workers to stay on the job longer because of a deficit-plagued pension system.
Passage was all but certain because Sarkozy's allies had a majority in the assembly. But left-leaning opponents, emboldened by huge protests across France last week, mustered loud and vociferous opposition.
Inside the chamber, Assembly President Bernard Accoyer cut short an increasingly boisterous overnight debate and accused critics for stalling tactics. In response, Socialists angrily shouted "Resign!"
Hundreds of protesters, waving banners and shouting "We are mistreated!" rallied Wednesday on the Place de la Concorde — across the Seine River from the Assembly — to demand that the government scrap the plan.