French protests intensify, govt stands firm


The government, which has stood firm on President Nicolas Sarkozy's plan to raise the retirement age through months of protests, assured the public infrastructure would not freeze up despite a week-long strike at refineries that dried up supplies at hundreds of the roughly 12,500 petrol stations nationwide.

“The situation is critical,” a spokeswoman at Exxon Mobil said. “Anyone looking for diesel in the Paris and Nantes (Western France) regions will have problems,” she said.
Strike action was ramping up ahead of a nationwide march on Tuesday and with a final Senate vote on the pension bill set for Wednesday it was looking like a make-or-break week for Sarkozy.

Workers at France’s 12 refineries were in their seventh day of a strike on Monday and protesters were blocking access many fuel distribution depots around the country.
The UFIP oil industry lobby has said France could see serious fuel supply problems by mid-week, meaning the government may have to tap emergency reserves. The DGAC aviation authority urged airlines to reduce flights to Paris’s Orly airport by 50 per cent and to all other airports by 30 per cent.

The CGT union said it was calling on workers to protest at airports nationwide on Wednesday as well. The union, the largest at Air France, said the protests would not necessarily involve blocking airport access but that it was an option.

Tuesday will be the sixth day of major weekday protests and work stoppages called by national labor union confederations since June but the unrest has intensified since last week.

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