May 26, 2016

    Petrol runs low in France as strikes continue


    FRENCH police fired water cannons yesterday to disperse scores of activists blocking a north-eastern oil depot, as pumps ran dry and unions stepped up strikes in a bitter battle over labour reforms.

    With a fifth of petrol stations in France running low, police moved in to break a blockade at the depot in Douchy-les-Mines near the Belgian border that had been in place since last Thursday.

    "They cleared away all our barricades. The depot was unblocked without confrontation," said Willy Dans, a spokesman for the local branch of the SUD union.

    Watched by around 80 striking workers, firefighters extinguished burning tyres that were blocking roads.

    Most petrol stations in the area were empty, forcing motorists to hop over the border to Belgium to fill up.

    The blockades are part of a wave of social unrest that has seen thousands take to the streets in often violent protests against labour reforms proposed by President Francois Hollande's deeply unpopular Socialist government.

    On Tuesday, Philippe Martinez, the leader of the CGT union which has mounted the blockades and strikes at refineries, vowed to continue the action until the labour legislation is withdrawn.

    At least six of the eight refineries in France have either stopped operating or have reduced their output due to strikes and blockades.

    Transport was further hampered yesterday by a rolling strike on the trains, causing chaos for commuters.

    The social unrest has raised concerns for the smooth running of the month-long Euro 2016 football championship hosted by France which start on June 10.

    "It's beginning to get to a critical point," said Pascal Barre who runs a logistics firm in Poincy, east of Paris.

    "We filled up at the end of last week and at the beginning of this week but our drivers need to fill up again and it's not possible."

    He warned: "If we can't deliver to shops and supermarkets, it's going to put France on its knees."