French strike hits fuel supplies

french-strikePetrol stations across France are running out of fuel as refinery and port workers continue a strike against the government’s plan to raise the retirement age. Around 1,500 petrol stations attached to French shopping centres had dried up by Monday morning, the AFP news agency reported, adding that such services supply the majority of the country’s motorists.

“Twenty to 25 per cent of our distribution capacity is either stopped or in trouble,” Alexandre de Benoist, a senior official with Union of Independent Petroleum Importers, which represents the sector, said.

He said the situation was “very worrying” in some regions with fuel distribution stations on strike or blockaded by workers from other sites.

“There are at least 1,500 stations that have run out of at least one fuel product or are totally dry,” he said.

France has around 12,500 petrol stations, with 4,500 of those attached to supermarkets or shopping centres.

Flights cutback

However, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, vowed to push ahead with the pension reform, despite the mass protests and refinery strike.

“The reform is essential and France is committed to it and will go ahead with it, just as our German partners did,” Sarkozy told reporters during a meeting in the northern French city of Deauville on Monday.

But France’s UFIP oil industry lobby has said France could see serious fuel-supply problems by mid-week, meaning the government may have to look at tapping emergency reserves.

But government ministers have sought to assuage fears, saying that the country has plenty of fuel.

“The government is in control,” Christian Estrosi, the industry minister, told RTL radio on Monday.

“There will be no blockade for companies, no blockade for transport and no blockade for road users.”

Nationwide strikes over the pension changes have spread to the country’s 12 oil refineries over the past seven days, adding to the impact of a three-week-long strike at France’s largest oil port, Fos-Lavera, over working conditions and a port overhaul.

On Monday airlines were also told to cut back their flights in the face of coming national protests, which will see further disruption to transport, schools and facilities.

France’s civil aviation authority said airlines must cancel 50 per cent of flights from Paris’ Orly airport and 30 per cent from other airports nationwide on Tuesday, including the country’s largest airport, Paris’ Charles de Gaulle.

Passengers are being advised to check their flights with their airline.

Student riots

Unions are stepping up action in the run-up to a senate vote on the pension bill due to take place on Wednesday, with major demonstrations expected to take place on Tuesday.

A majority of the French support the protests against planned legislation to raise the minimum and full retirement ages by two years to 62 and 67 respectively, a measure the government says is the only way to rein in a growing pension deficit.

Lorry drivers joined in the strike on Sunday, blocking roads and staging go-slow operations on highways, while rail unions announced new strikes from Monday.

High-school students are also continuing protests, blockading schools and burning vehicles.

Around one hundred students in the Paris suburb of Nanterre clashed with riot police on Monday after trying to block access to their school.

The main points of the pension bill have passed through both houses of parliament and following the next senate vote could soon be signed into law.

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