French police, strikers clash as pensions law voted
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Last Updated: Friday, October 22, 2010, 23:11
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.


First Published: Friday, October 22, 2010, 23:11

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