PARIS, Nov. 21 — As a national transit strike stretched into its second week, arsonists disrupted high-speed train service on four main routes on Wednesday. Government officials called the fires a “coordinated act of sabotage.”
The early morning outbreak of fires on the electrical lines supplying the T.G.V. high-speed trains happened hours before talks between transit union and government officials. The negotiators met for more than four hours and agreed to continue on Monday, while strike-weary travelers endured the eighth day of a walkout with no end in sight.
The fires raised the question of whether the striking unions were losing control of their most militant members. Top union officials condemned the attacks and insisted that there was no proof of union involvement. Bernard Thibault, the secretary general of the Confédération Générale du Travail, a powerful union, said such attacks during a strike were “certainly designed to bring discredit to the profession.”
Government officials also condemned the fires. They stopped short of blaming the unions.
The state-owned rail operator, S.N.C.F., said the fires were ignited between 6:10 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. on routes linking Paris with eastern France, the western Atlantic coast, the north and the southeast. S.N.C.F. officials also reported vandalism to rail signal systems, including burning rags stuffed in signal boxes.
Some S.N.C.F. workers, who operate other long-distance and regional lines as well as the high-speed lines, voted Wednesday in several big cities to suspend the strike. But workers in Normandy and Nantes vowed to go on.
On Tuesday, François Chérèque, the secretary general of another major union, the C.F.D.T., was forced to flee a rally after jeering members surrounded him to protest the union’s support of negotiations.
Railway officials said the number on strike was falling: about one in five workers was absent on Wednesday, they said, compared with about three in five when the strike started last week.
But the reality of the French train network is that a minority of workers can disrupt most service. By afternoon, the S.N.C.F. was predicting more limited transportation services on Thursday, though with signs of improvement. It said two-thirds of the high-speed trains and three-fourths of Métro and suburban trains would be running.
The Montparnasse train station in Paris was the scene of another protest on Wednesday, with thousands of tobacco sellers marching toward the National Assembly to demand a softening of antismoking measures scheduled to take effect in January.
Strikes and walkouts — by firemen, teachers, weather service employees, stagehands and others — are taking a toll in Paris.
Patrice Crueize, the owner of L’Entracte, a bar and restaurant near the Opéra Garnier, was infuriated. “We’ve lost something like 40 to 50 percent of our sales since the beginning of the strikes,” he said. “People don’t take time to drink or to eat anymore; they go home earlier.”
The Gymnase Theater in Paris also has been hard hit. A one-man show with François Pirette opened there Oct. 3, but he has been absent the last couple of days. “It’s the fifth time he cancels his show due to the strikes,” said Jean-Pierre Gautier, one of the theater’s directors. “He lives in western France.”