Fuel supplies running low in France as three million protest over pensions
DIESEL and jet fuel supplies were running low in parts of France yesterday as up to three million people took to the streets to protest against plans to raise the retirement age to 62 from 60.
Unions declared that all 12 fuel-producing refineries in France were on strike and many depots were being blocked by protesters.
More than 200 separate protests were being orchestrated yesterday, with the main one setting off from the Place de la Rpublique in Paris, as part of a fifth day of action.
There, the mood was upbeat, with disco music blaring, horns honking and chants of "All Together" from the crowds.
Several days of co-ordinated action by the unions has left flights grounded, uncollected rubbish piling up and riot police called in to keep fuel depots open, with trains, subways, hospital and schools all affected.
France's main airport, Charles de Gaulle, serving Paris, only has enough fuel to last until Tuesday, the transport ministry has warned.
Around 10 per cent of filling stations have already run out of petrol amid reports of panic buying breaking out in some areas.
Christian Coste, head of the CGT union at Total's La Mede refinery, said the protests were "an attempt to say stop abusing the workers and citizens".
He added: "We are not here to bring France to its knees and create a shortage; we are here to make ourselves heard."
Economy minister Christine Lagarde said: "There is no reason to panic over this. I am sure that we will unblock the situation through intelligent social dialogue.
Dominique Bussereau, France's transport minister, authorised oil companies to use some reserves after trucking companies complained of difficulties finding fuel, but he insisted there was no reason for drivers to fear a shortage.
But Bernard Martin, a 60-year-old pensioner who found no fuel at a Carrefour gas station in Ecully, near Lyon, said: "When the government says there will be no shortage, it means there will be a shortage," said. "Since this morning, there is no more diesel fuel."
Countries across Europe are cutting spending and raising taxes to bring down deficits and debts that hit record levels due to the 2008 financial crisis which precipitated the worst recession in 70 years.
President Nicolas Sarkozy's flagship pension reforms - especially raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 - are seen by unions as an attack on their near-sacred social protections. The government insists it is the only way to save the money-draining pension system and insists people must work longer because they are living longer. President Sarkozy insists the unpopular pension reforms are needed to stop a 32 billion (28bn) annual pension shortfall ballooning to 50bn (44bn) by 2020. Even at 62, France would have one of the lowest retirement ages in Europe.The French parliament has approved the pension bill's key points and the Senate will vote on it on Wednesday.
Unions plan to meet on Thursday to discuss further action. But Franois Chereque, leader of the CFDT Union, said: "We have several million people in the street who support us and believe in us. The only one blocking the country is the government."
Elsewhere, thousands of students and teachers demonstrated in Italy on Friday against planned cuts in education, while Portugal's minority government faced a battle in parliament over tax hikes and deep spending cuts. In Greece riot police fired tear gas at strikers in Athens on Friday to end a dispute that shut the Acropolis for three days.
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Friday 24 May 2013
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