France to run out of fuel in days as strikes escalate
Petrol pumps could run dry in France by Wednesday, experts warned yesterday, as the stand-off over pension reforms reached crisis point.
Airlines advised pilots to refuel abroad and UFIP, the country's oil industry association, said that if strikes continued at all 12 of France's refineries, then national shortages would follow.
Christine Lagarde, France's finance minister, said 230 of the country's 13,000 stations were out of fuel and Total, the French oil company, said 350 to 400 petrol stations were suffering disrupted supplies. Shortages looked set to worsen as lorry drivers pledged to halt road transport of fuel to filling stations from last night.
"We have found the means to cope with the worst moments of the crisis so far, but we cannot hold out forever," warned Jean-Louis Schilansky, UFIP's president.
Striking workers continued to block the Fos-Lavera fuel terminal near Marseille, where 61 ships and 47 petrol tankers are unable to offload.
"We ran out of gas yesterday already. There's nothing left," said Alpha Sysavane, a worker at a BP station in Paris. "All we have left are a few litres of diesel fuel."
The government has authorised oil companies to use emergency stocks, but has not yet touched its three-week strategic reserves.
One motorist from a village near Fontainbleau said she had driven 30 miles to Paris in order to buy fuel. "At home, the filling stations are closed," said Emilia Scoubel (30), an office worker.
On Saturday, the ecology ministry warned that Roissy Charles de Gaulle, France's main international airport, could run out of fuel today. But yesterday Dominique Bussereau, the transport minister, insisted the pipeline to the airport was now working. However, planes had been advised to fill up before returning to France, he said.
The CGT union complained that the pipeline feeding Paris's airports had been reopened by "untrained executives", warning their action "posed a serious security threat" and was an "unacceptable breach of the right to strike".
President Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to rush through a law raising the legal retirement age from 60 to 62 by Wednesday, but unions hope to strong-arm him into revoking or at least suspending the bill.
On Saturday, more than 825,000 protesters hit the streets in the fifth such demonstrations in a little over a month, though the government suggested that the movement was losing steam.
Unions will meet on Thursday, with one saying it would accept the pension law if it is passed. But others are banking on the government giving ground in the face of another mass street protest on Tuesday. (©Daily Telegraph, London)