French stirs eat into economy

French stirs eat into economy

Protests costing up to $562 million per day

Tanker trucks load fuel at the French oil giant Total refinery on Monday. AFP

France’s 12 refineries remained shut down on Monday after nearly two weeks of protests despite raids last week by riot police that forced some to open access to fuel stocks. At ports in Marseille and Le Havre, dozens of tankers are still anchored offshore, waiting to unload.

Nearly 10,000 tons of garbage have been piling up in southern Marseille and its suburbs, and a garbage incineration plant outside Paris was shut down by strikers who huddled around a campfire and barbecue grills outside.

With French life expectancy increasing and the country’s debt soaring, French President Nicolas Sarkozy insists that the retirement age must be raised to save the pension system. Unions, meanwhile, see retirement at 60 as a cherished and hard-won right.

Final vote

The Senate voted 177-153 on Friday to pass the pension reform, following its approval in the lower house. On Monday, a group of lawmakers from the upper and lower houses were trying to agree on the definitive version of the bill so there can be a final vote by both chambers later this week.

The bill’s passage through parliament has not deterred unions, which have already announced two new nationwide protests — for Thursday and Nov 6.

The strikes have hit a wide swath of the economy and life in France, sporadically in some cases like at schools and post offices. A national train strike that started Oct 12 has been tapering off, but oil refinery workers, who control the crucial energy sector, have been striking steadily for about two weeks.

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