France Strikes Petrol Stations Run Dry As Protests Turn Violent With Police And Students Clashing

Wed, 10/20/2010 - 11:26am

Hundreds of petrol stations in France are running out of fuel as strike action over planned pension reforms flares into violence. Walkouts at France's 12 oil refineries, along with protests that cut off access to some fuel depots in the south, have squeezed fuel supplies across the country. In Lyon, several cars have been set alight and there have been clashes between riot police and students as the protests intensify. An Exxon Mobil spokeswoman said: "The (fuel) situation is critical. Anyone looking for diesel in the Paris and Nantes (western France) regions will have problems." But the French government is standing firm on President Nicolas Sarkozy's unpopular plan to raise the retirement age. The right to strike is not the right to bar access to a fuel depot - that's an illegal action. Prime Minister Francois Fillon Mr Sarkozy, in the northern coastal town of Deauville for talks with the leaders of Germany and Russia, has insisted he will not back down. "The reform is essential and France is committed to it and will go ahead with it just as our German partners did," he said after meeting German chancellor Angela Merkel. Despite the petrol shortages, officials insisted the nation's infrastructure would not seize up. French ministers said the country had plenty of fuel and that airports in particular had an ample supply. But CGT, the largest union at Air France, said it was calling on workers to protest at airports on Wednesday, adding that blocking access points remained an option. Rail services were still being badly disrupted as strike action ramped up ahead of a nationwide protest on Tuesday. View French Strikes in a larger map Truck drivers have also used vans to slow the flow of traffic on motorways around cities like Lyon and Rennes, but have not yet resorted to blocking roads. Prime Minister Francois Fillon has warned protesters at fuel depots: "The right to strike is not the right to bar access to a fuel depot - that's an illegal action." Many people in France support the protests against raising the minimum and full retirement ages by two years to 62 and 67, respectively. Riot police officers detain a youth during a student demonstration in Lyon But the government says the measure is the only way to stem a ballooning pension deficit. The main points of Mr Sarkozy's bill have already passed through both houses of parliament and could soon be signed into law, following a Senate vote on the full package on Wednesday

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