PROTESTS ESCALATE: Workers opposed to a higher retirement age blocked roads to airports around France, leaving passengers in Paris dragging suitcases on foot along an emergency breakdown lane. Riot police forced striking workers away from blocked fuel depots in western France, restoring gasoline to areas where pumps were dry after weeks of protests.
THE ISSUE: The government has proposed raising the retirement age to 62 from 60. Many workers feel the change would be a first step in eroding France's social benefits _ which include long vacations, contracts that make it hard for employers to lay off workers and a state-subsidized health care system.
THE FALLOUT: The proposal has triggered months of largely peaceful disruptions. Some protests erupted into violence this week. President Nicolas Sarkozy expects his party will pass the change in a Senate vote expected Thursday.