French riot police free oil depots as nation counts the cost of protests
Teams of riot police carried out dawn raids to free France's oil depots yesterday as industry said the strikes against pension reforms were costing businesses e100m per day.
Under orders from President Nicolas Sarkozy, riot police in black body armour broke blockades around three depots in western France overnight as fuel shortages left a third of France's filling stations without petrol.
Jean Pelin, the director-general of France's chemical industries association, said the strike had already cost his sector an estimated e1bn in lost turnover, around e100m for every extra strike day.
"This is a severe blow for an industry that was just recovering from the crisis," he told reporters. He said a little over half of the losses were due to a strike at a port in Marseilles.
SNCF, the national rail firm, said it was losing e20m a day while Jean-Francois Bernardin, the president of the assembly of chambers of commerce, said "tens of thousands" of businesses had been hit by fuel shortages and disruption.
But workers in key sectors showed no sign of ending a week-long strike against a plan to raise the legal retirement age from 60 to 62, which the government has said is essential to reduce France's public deficit.
All 12 of France's oil refineries are blocked but police have cleared access to 21 oil depots since Friday and the government has insisted that petrol shortages will end in five days.
"If it is not stopped quickly, this disorder, which is aimed at paralysing the country, could have consequences for jobs," Mr Sarkozy said. The senate was initially due to approve the pension reform yesterday but Socialist filibustering has now pushed back the final vote until tomorrow at the earliest.
But even if it goes through, six out of 10 French people support continued strike action, according to a poll in Liberation newspaper.
Buoyed by public support, unions are considering calling a seventh mass strike protest day next Tuesday. Pledging to stand firm, Francois Fillon, the prime minister, said that "social confrontation" was part of French democracy but that in the end "national consensus" over the need for reform would prevail.
Meanwhile, protests by university and secondary school students were once again hijacked by troublemakers in some areas. Central Lyons was the scene of what a police spokesman called "urban guerrilla warfare" for the third day. Masked rioters clashed with police, throwing projectiles and setting fire to a van.
There was tear gas and clashes in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, where rioters hijacked a school pupils' protest and burned a car. (© Daily Telegraph, London)