French taxi drivers' strike clogs roadways

SYLVIE CORBET Associated Press Published:

PARIS (AP) -- Taxi drivers across France clogged traffic, slowed access to airports and forced would-be passengers to find alternate transport as they held a strike Thursday over government deregulation proposals they fear will cut into their business.

Thousands of protesting taxi drivers lined up in single file on roadsides across the country, refused fares or traveled highways at a crawl. At one point in the late morning, a trip into Paris that would normally take 20 minutes was listed on traffic signs at more than two hours. The drivers called it "Operation Escargot."

Taxi associations oppose government proposals to allow private companies to transport the sick to medical appointments and allow for new chauffeur businesses.

At Paris' Orly airport, with riot police on hand, scores of taxi drivers prevented access to the drop-off point at the West terminal, forcing air travelers to walk further to get inside.

After hours of negotiations, the Interior Ministry announced late Thursday that the government wouldn't make any decisions about deregulation without consulting the taxi unions. It also said it would work to eliminate any confusion between the roles of traditional taxis and the new chauffeur businesses.

Those concessions are expected to put an end to most of the striking.

But earlier an official close to the French president, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the meeting, said the government was still determined to implement some measure of deregulation.