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"Coordinated acts of sabotage."

That is how France's state-owned railway is describing arson and vandal attacks on its network.

Urgent repairs were needed amid delays to services already hit by industrial action. The attacks came just hours before talks aimed at ending the walkout.

High-speed lines were targeted in several places, with militant strikers blamed by a senior rail executive.

Union leaders have condemned the incidents and stressed there is no proof their members were involved.

Didier Le Reste of the CGT Union wondered whether the attacks were aimed at discrediting the strike, rail workers or unions or were designed to wreck Wednesday's talks.

The French government has denounced the attacks.

"They are unacceptable acts," said State Transport Secretary Dominique Bussereau, evoking President Nicolas Sarkozy's determination to ensure those responsible will be severely punished.

Eight days into the strike, talks have failed to deliver a breakthrough. Local transport workers in Paris are set to decide tomorrow whether to continue industrial action. And there are no signs disruption will end to train services nationwide.

Strike-weary passengers are at the sharp end in a dispute over pension reform. The showdown is the biggest challenge the French president has faced since taking office in May.




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