French fuel blockades lifted
Industry body says oil refineries across the country have been cleared of blockades set up by striking workers.
Last Modified: 25 Oct 2010 17:12 GMT
Oil-refinery workers around the country have been on strike for more than a week over the pension overhaul [AFP]

Oil refineries across France look set to re-open after blockades by striking workers protesting a pension reform were lifted, an industry body said.

French oil sector lobby UFIP said on Monday that no fuel depots were being blocked, as workers at three of France's 12 refineries voted to end their strike.

France has been suffering severe fuel shortages, with up to a quarter of filling stations running dry, since the launch this month of nationwide protests by workers battling to defend the right to retire at 60.

Last week Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, ordered riot police to move strikers from the entrances to the depots to allow fuel trucks through, and on Monday Jean-Louis Schilansky of the UFIP industry body told the AFP news agency they were clear.

Strike 'costing billions'

The move comes as the French government warned that long-term action against the reform was costing as much as $562m a day.

Christine Lagarde, the finance minister, gave warning on Monday that an estimated 200 to 400 million euros was being lost each day as workers continue to go on strike.

"Today, we shouldn't be weighing down this recovery with campaigns that are painful for the French economy and very painful for a certain number of small and medium-sized businesses," she told Europe 1 radio.

She said that images broadcast around the world of demonstrators clashing with riot police and of industrial sites blocked by protesters had cost France  in terms of its international image for investors.

"It's the attractiveness of our territory that's at stake when we see pictures like that," she said.

Lagarde said that the ongoing strikes at refineries and fuel depots were also taking a toll.

"It's obvious that the petrochemical sector in particular, which needs large supplies of hydrocarbons, is suffering."

Unions and students have been holding strikes for nearly two weeks in an attempt to pressure the government to scrap plans to raise the age of retirement from 60 to 62.

Politicians are expected to sign the bill, which the government says is necessary to save money in the face of a deficit crisis, into law this week, after the French senate approved it last Friday.

Ongoing demonstrations have brought millions onto the streets, and open-ended walkouts by railway and petroleum workers have wreaked havoc on commuters and travellers.

In Marseille, a Mediterranean port city, some 9,000 tonnes of rubbish has also piled up on the streets due to garbage collectors joining the strike.

'Support dwindling'

Jacky Rowland, Al Jazeera's correspondent in the capital, Paris, said: "There are indications today that support [for the strike] could be beginning to dwindle when we bear in mind the voting that has gone on between unions at the various oil refineries.

"Seven out of 12 at the last count have decided to continue with the strike. But unions at three refineries have decided to go back to work.

"I think that this is what Sarkozy is banking on. That workers all over France may be suffering from demo fatigue, and that the whole movement will be losing some of its momentum.

"The real day of reckoning for the unions will be this Thursday. They have called a day of national mobilisation. The real question will be in what sort of numbers people will respond to their call."

Another survey, published in Sunday's Journal du Dimanche newspaper, showed that only 29 per cent of the 1,828 people questioned were satisfied with the performance of Sarkozy.

That was down three per cent from September and was the French president's lowest rating since taking office in 2007.

It was also among the lowest approval ratings of any French president in recent memory, the newspaper said.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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