France clears fuel blockades before pension vote
By Nick Vinocur
PARIS (Reuters) - President Nicolas Sarkozy sent in police to clear access to barricaded French fuel depots and restore supply as trade unions kept up their resistance on Wednesday to a pension reform due for a final vote this week.
Fuel imports hit a record high on Tuesday, the government said, as it tried to get round a 24-day blockade of France's largest oil port, near Marseille, where 51 oil tankers lay idle in the Mediterranean, unable to dock.
With more than 3,000 service stations out of nearly 12,500 in France out of fuel, police could also be deployed to clear access to striking oil refineries, according to Sarkozy's order.
A nine-day transport strike in 2007 cost France about 400 million euros ($550 million) a day, according to the economy ministry, although analysts do not see the current strikes costing as much.
Economy Minister Christine Lagarde said on Britain's Channel 4 television that she could not estimate the full cost of the strike action for France but it was unlikely to have a major impact on gross domestic product if it did not last too long.
Earlier on France's TF1 television Lagarde said the government hoped petrol pumps would be full again in a few days, and urged people rioting on the fringes of protests or blockading fuel depots to think about France's image and its need to speed up its economic recovery.
"I truly appeal to people's sense of responsibility, particularly those who think it's fun to blockade things and smash them up," Lagarde said. "It's serious for our country because France is missing a chance to come out of the crisis under better conditions than others."
The centre-right government has stood firm through a wave of anti-pension reform action since the summer but the most serious test of its resolve has been ongoing strikes that began last Tuesday at the country's 12 refineries and riots this week on the fringes of protests in Lyon and a western Paris suburb. Continued...