French police, strikers clash as pensions law voted

French police broke up pickets besieging fuel depots as Senate prepared to vote on pension reform.

Paris: French police broke up pickets
besieging oil refineries and fuel depots on Friday, as President
Nicolas Sarkozy`s government hardened its stance and the
Senate prepared to vote on pension reform.

Government representatives served an order on workers at
the main refinery serving the Paris region, threatening them
with jail unless they lift blockades that have threatened to
paralyse transport and go back to work.

Unions reacted with fury, alleging that Sarkozy was
threatening their right to strike, and strikers vowed to step
up the protests against moves to increase the pension age from
60 to 62 with at least two more nationwide stoppages.

Police used tear gas to disperse 200 demonstrators trying
to block a fuel depot near the southern city of Toulouse, and
moved in in force to restore control of the Grandpuits
refinery in Melun outside the capital.

Strikers said three protesters were injured as the police
went in, although at Grandpuits they did so without helmets or
batons. Unions said a state official had issued them with a
"requisition" ordering them back to work.

The leader of the powerful CGT union, Bernard Thibault,
condemned "this judicially illegal and politically insane
action" and accused the government of "preventing the right to
strike as guaranteed by the constitution."

Left-wing opposition parties also reacted with fury to
the escalation, and the CGT representative in the refinery
industry went as far as to compare the operation to the
tactics of France`s World War II fascist puppet regime.

The government insisted it had simply acted to secure
access to the fuel depot inside the refinery for emergency
services and to protect "freedom of movement", and Prime
Minister Francois Fillon`s office promised more action.

"At a time when many French people wish to travel for the
November 1 holiday weekend, it is in everyone`s interest to
make all necessary efforts to return the situation to normal,
which will take several more days", it said.

France`s half-term school holidays were due to start
after lessons today.

Fuel distribution firms warned that their plans to
resupply filling stations would take longer than planned, but
the government insisted that as yet it has no plans to
introduce petrol rationing.

Meanwhile, turmoil continued around the country, as
students staged another day of protests, workers stepped up
fuel depot pickets and unions called two more days of mass
strikes and street rallies for next week and the week after.

Hundreds of riot squad officers stood by in Lyon to try
to prevent a repeat of yesterday`s violence that saw security
forces fire water cannon and fight running battles with
rampaging youths in the east-central city.