Strikers restore blockade at French fuel depot

France has been suffering severe fuel shortages since the launch this month of nationwide protests.

Paris: Workers at three of France`s 12 refineries have voted to end their strike, management and unions said on today, after government warned that fuel shortages
were hurting the economy.

Refineries operated by Esso at Fos-sur-Mer in the south of France and at Gravenchon in the north are to reopen, management said.

Earlier, unions said the Reichstett refinery operated by Petroplus in the east would reopen.

"An end to the strike was voted at Fos-sur-Mer at the weekend and at Port-Jerome Gravenchon today," an Esso spokeswoman said, adding that the company was still waiting for crude to resume refining.

Workers voted to keep on striking at six other refineries, including Grandpuits, the nearest to Paris, where employees have been ordered back to work under so-called
government "requisitions", said Jean-Michel Maton of the CFDT union.

Workers at the Petit-Couronne refinery in Normandy are to vote on whether to end their strike before Wednesday afternoon, the CGT union`s Yvon Scornet told a news agency.

Refining at Reichstett will restart from next week, unions said.

"We`re showing the public our goodwill and that we want to continue to supply the region with refined products," Jean-Luc Bildstein, representative of the CFDT union, told the agency.

France has been suffering severe fuel shortages, with up to a quarter of filling stations running dry, since the launch this month of nationwide protests by workers battling to
defend the right to retire at 60.

French university students are planning to march on Tuesday to defend the right to retire at 60, and trade unions have called their campaign`s seventh one-day nationwide strike and day of rallies on Thursday.

Government supporters were putting a brave face on things, however, betting that on Wednesday -- when the National Assembly rubber stamps the pensions law already approved by both houses of parliament -- the movement will fizzle.

"In France we have a sort of ritual from another century. Strikes, protests, yes, but taking the economy hostage is intolerable," said Jean-Francois Cope, leader of the right-wing UMP in Parliament, in an interview with Le Parisien.

The pensions reform bill was approved by the Senate on Friday, and on Monday the text will be reconciled with the draft passed earlier by the lower house.

Following its adoption, France`s constitutional court may be asked to sign off on its legality and Sarkozy expects to be able to put it into the official gazette on November 15, advisor Raymond Soubie told Europe 1 radio.

"This reform will pass. It`s a victory for France and the French," he said, noting that recent protests against the reform had failed to paralyse public services and that labour leaders had been "quite reasonable".

Government expects the merged text will then receive final approval by the National Assembly on Wednesday, raising the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62 by 2018 and increasing the period of salary contributions to 41 years.

Last week President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered riot police to move strikers from the entrances to the depots to allow fuel trucks through.

The only fuel distribution depots now hit by strike action protesting pension reform are those located at refineries, Jean-Louis Schilansky, who heads the national oil
industry association UFIP, told the agency.

Reichstett workers walked out on October 15 to oppose plans to downgrade the site from a full refinery to simple fuel storage dump, and the strike was not directly connected
to broader protests against pension reform.

But the action contributed to fuel shortages being felt across France after other refineries and fuel distribution centres were hit by rolling protests by workers battling to
defend their right to retire at 60.