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French PM says no talks on SNCF debt until reform talks progress

Railway workers cast their ballots as they vote about the strike at the Nice railway station on the second day of a nationwide strike by French SNCF railway workers in Nice, France, April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

(reuters_tickers)

PARIS (Reuters) - French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Thursday he would not back down on plans to overhaul the state-run SNCF railways, as the pro-reform CFDT labour union said it would take part in a further wave of strikes starting on Sunday.

Philippe reiterated that he would not enter into talks over how much of the SNCF's debt of 46 billion euros (£40.2 billion) the government would soak up until progress was made on the future organisation of the SNCF and employee rights.

"I'm open to discussion on debt ... but in return for extremely clear commitments that will transform the company's operations," Philippe told France Inter radio.

The four main rail unions - CGT, Sud Rail, CFDT and UNSA-Railways - plan to strike two days in every five over the next three months, the sternest challenge yet to President Emmanuel Macron's plans to modernise the French economy.

Macron's government says the SNCF, which is losing 3 billion euros a year, needs to change radically to deal with competition when the network monopoly starts to end in 2020, in line with liberalisation rules agreed at the European Union level.

(Reporting by Laurence Frost and Brian Love; Editing by Richard Lough, Larry King)

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