Strike cuts fuel to Paris airports

Refinery workers cut off supply to capital’s airports as protesters step up action against pension plans.

High-school students have joined the protests against the government’s pension-overhaul plans [AFP]

Striking French oil-refinery workers have cut the fuel supply to Paris airports, raising fears of a fuel shortage.

Fuel depots were blockaded by protesters on Friday in a bid to reverse the government’s plans to raise the retirement age.

The pipeline supplying Paris stopped operating because of strikes at northern refineries, a source at the company operating the pipeline said.

Fuel distributors said several hundred filling stations had been shut because their supplies had run out, reportedly prompting panic buying among motorists.

“We’re filling up at petrol stations to save the fuel we have in depots as much as possible,” one lorry driver in Paris’ southern suburb of Rungis said.

“But if this carries on, we won’t be able to last too long either. We’ll have to go fishing.”

Trapil, the Paris pipeline operator, told the AFP news agency that Charles de Gaulle airport could run out of fuel by next week, while Orly “has stocks for 17 days”.

Access restored

French police restored access to at least three of the depots after all 12 of the nations refineries had been shut down due to the strike.

But ousted strikers moved their picket lines to other distribution centres as the fight against the French government’s plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 continued.

At Donges in western France, striking refinery workers built a barricade of burning tyres as they waited to confront police.

The action comes a day after the government attempted to calm fears of fuel shortages, amid reports of panic buying after eight refineries shut down operations on Thursday.

Dominique Bussereau, the French transport minister, authorised oil companies to use some of their reserves after transport companies complained of difficulties finding fuel for their vehicles. 

But he said there was no reason for drivers to fear a shortage.

Police managed to reopen a depot near the southern port city of Marseille and removed blockades at another near the southwestern city of Bordeaux, and at a third site near Clermont-Ferrand.

But strikers threw up fresh pickets in at least five other fuel depots.

Unions have also called for a fresh day of strikes and protests next Tuesday, on the eve of a senate vote on a bill to raise the retirement age.

Union Francaise des Industries Petrolieres [UFIP], a refiners’ group, has urged authorities to use strategic stocks, a decision last made in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina in the US disrupted international supply.

Students join protests

Massive protests over the government’s pension plans have escalated this week, with a nationwide day of strikes and demonstrations bringing at least one million people onto the streets on Tuesday.

Panic-buying was reported at some petrol stations as refineries across France were blockaded [AFP]

Some workers have continued to stage walkouts, while high-school students are also holding demonstrations in several cities.

Pupils threw stones at police at two schools north of Paris on Thursday and officers clashed with youths and made arrests in the northern city of Lens.

More than 300 schools were affected by student protests on Friday, officials said.

“We want to tell Sarkozy that he is really in trouble, the youth are ready to mobilise with the rest of the 70 per cent of the French society that is against this reform,” Benjamin Vernay, a student leader at the Lycee Voltaire high school in Paris, said.

Agnes Poirier, a political commentator, told Al Jazeera that the support of young people would be key to securing any measure of success for the protests.

“For every generation in France it is a right of passage – there was ’68, ’86 and 2005 – and each time the youth took to the streets whatever the law, the government had to back down,” she said. 

“Today we have seen some skirmishes in the suburbs, protests, social unrest, perhaps riots … all the elements of violent action are here.”

No backing down

In the Riviera city of Cannes, a police officer was injured by a stone thrown during a student protest. TV footage showed riot police using teargas to contain young protesters in the southern city of Lyon.

“There have never since 1995 been as many protesters … from both the public and private sectors, and now from all generations,” Bernard Thibault, the head of the powerful CGT union, told LCI television.

“The government is betting on this movement deteriorating, even breaking down. I think we have the means to disappoint them.”

In 1995, then president Jacques Chirac backed down over pension revamp after a three-week transport strike paralysed France.

But despite the ongoing strikes and protests, the current government shows no sign of backing down.

Key parts of the pensions overhaul, part of efforts to rein in France’s public deficit, have been definitively passed by the upper house and the government hopes for it to be passed in its entirety by the end of the month.

Unions and the Socialist opposition say Nicolas Sarkozy is making workers pay an unfair share of the bill for the financial crisis and have made alternative proposals for funding the deficit.

Polls show two-thirds of French people oppose the president’s plan to raise the minimum retirement age to 62 from 60 and lift the age at which people can retire on a full pension to 67 from 65.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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