Controversial French Reform Gets Final Senate approval

The French Senate gave its final approval to a controversial pension reform bill Tuesday, passing it 177-151 despite nationwide protests that brought millions of demonstrators onto the streets.

The lower house of parliament is due to vote on it Wednesday, the last legislative hurdle before the package becomes law.

It would raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, among other measures, which the government said are necessary because the current system is unaffordable.

There were demonstrations Tuesday at four universities around the country, the Ministry of Education said. Most universities are in vacation this week.

As the final vote looms, the country's finance minister said she doesn't expect ongoing strikes to cause a significant blow to France's growth forecast for this year.

""There are no winners and no losers in this affair. What is important is to take responsibility, to realize that the economy needs to keep going,"" Finance Minister Christine Lagarde told French radio station Radio Classique on Tuesday. ""I do not deny that we've had several days where there has clearly been an economic impact. I don't think it's enough to change our growth forecast for the entire year.""

A spokesman for the Ministry of Finance said France's expected increase in gross domestic product for 2010 is 1.6 percent, a level that has held steady since August.

Strikes in France cost the country 200 million to 400 million euros ($280 million to $560 million) per day, plus ""immaterial"" and ""moral"" damages, Lagarde told French broadcaster Europe 1 on Monday.

French workers staged a series of rolling strikes and demonstrations this month and in September against government plans to raise the retirement age. The government said the measures are necessary to save money and shrink the deficit.

Lagarde's estimate covers a period of nearly two weeks, since rolling strikes began