Sarkozy support plummets in pension row
FRENCH pension protests appeared to be running out of steam yesterday, without a clear victory for either the unions or President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The crippling petrol shortages threatened at the end of last week have eased temporarily, but could worsen again from today. Despite tough talk from the government, no attempt has been made to force the reopening of the 12 French oil refineries that have been strike-bound for almost a fortnight.
Mr Sarkozy is hoping that the protests will fade, allowing refineries to reopen without confrontation once a law raising the retirement age to 62 clears its final parliamentary hurdles on Wednesday. He could then claim to have "won" the dispute, but a new poll yesterday suggested he had lost even more ground.
An IFOP poll found only 5pc of people now fully supported Mr Sarkozy. Another 24pc were "somewhat" behind him.
Moderate union federations and public opinion favour a winding down of militant actions when the pension reform becomes law.
The moderate unions want to restrict protests to marches and 24-hour strikes, beginning on Thursday. They fear that the continuing fuel blockages and the spreading strikes by refuse collectors, will throw away a "public opinion victory" and improve Mr Sarkozy's chances of re-election in 2012.
However, hardline union branches insist they will continue their strikes, blockages and flying pickets indefinitely.
Despite some improvement in petrol supplies over the weekend, the hardliners believe the real impact of the refinery strikes has yet to bite.
Police have been forcing open fuel depots, but buffer stocks are almost exhausted. Unless refineries reopen, France could face an even more serious fuel crisis by the end of the week.
On Friday, the government seemed to have taken legal action to force open a large refinery at Grandpuits, east of Paris. It has emerged that the order was intended only to free fuel stocks, not to force workers to restart the refinery itself.
The government said yesterday that a quarter of the country's filling stations were dry or short of fuel, an improvement on last week.
The worst problems were concentrated in the Paris area, Normandy and northern Auvergne. Other areas were almost back to normal. More student protests have been called tomorrow. But with a 10-day school holiday having started on Friday, the government hopes these protests will collapse.(© Independent News Service)