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French police reopen refinery
Government orders striking staff back to work as senate prepares to vote on plans to raise retirement age.
Last Modified: 22 Oct 2010 11:20 GMT
 As the police reopened Grandpuits refinery, many protesters were injured in clashes [Reuters]

French police have ended a blockade by striking workers outside the Total oil company's Grandpuits refinery near Paris as the senate prepares to vote on government plans to raise the retirement age.

Riot police took control of the entrance to the refinery on Friday, clearing pickets and a barricade of burning tyres, shortly after union leaders told reporters they had received an emergency decree ordering the strikers there back to work. 

The officers advanced without batons or teargas, clearing an 80-strong "citizens' cordon" of strikers and local supporters. Union officials said a number of the protesters were hurt when they were kicked by police.

All of France's 12 oil refineries have been disrupted by strikes, and on Friday around one in five petrol stations had run out of fuel, officials said.

"There is not much left in the pumps," Jean-Michel Drevet, a local official, said. "This will relieve some of that."

Paralysis fears

The order issued to the unions is known in France as a "requisition". It can be issued by French authorities when they believe a strike poses a threat to public order and compels strikers to return to work, under threat of prosecution.

But union members outside the Grandpuits refinery were unmoved by the concerns that dwindling fuel supplies could paralyse the country.

Pension Reform

 

  Under current rules, the French can retire at 60, providing they have paid social security contributions for 40.5 years.
  Retirees are entitled to a full pension when they are 65.
  The planned reform would raise the minimum retirement age to 62 by 2018, the qualification to 41.5 years, and the pension age to 67.
  Officials say the reforms would save about $95bn.

"It's a shame," Gaston Carrere Laurent said. "There is no more right to strike in France."

Workers had been blocking the entrance of the refinery, 80km east of Paris, for ten days in a row.

Charles Foulard, the head of the powerful CGT union in the refinery sector, insisted that the goal of the blockade was not to "paralyse the country" but was "a cry for help to the government to open negotiations".

Sarkozy has stood firm on raising the retirement age and overhauling the money-sapping pensions system, saying the changes are necessary to ensure that future generations receive a pension.

However, the unions have threatened to continue their demonstrations.

"More protests are expected in Paris. Riot police have started to arrive, putting barriers around the senate," Al Jazeera's Emma Hayward, reporting from Paris, said.

On Thursday, the unions called for two more days of protests on October 28 and November 6 even if the senate passes the legislation.

"The government bears full and total responsibility for the further protests in light of its intransigent attitude, lack of listening and repeated provocations," the unions said in a joint statement after a day of negotiations in Paris.

The unions say the working class is unfairly punished by the pension reform and that the government should find money for the pension system elsewhere.

They fear this reform will herald the end of an entire network of welfare benefits that make France an enviable place to work and live.

An opinion poll published Friday by the BVA institute and broadcast by Canal Plus television, showed that a large majority of French voters back the strikes, by a margin of 69 per cent to 29.

But a narrower 52 per cent majority oppose the blockade of refineries, which has caused fuel shortages and disrupted transport nationwide.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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