Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Airport blocked as French resistance deepens

STRIKING oil refinery and port workers have blocked access to Marseille airport as the French government grapples with a 10th day of strikes and confrontations.

About 500 workers from the l'Etang-de-Beurre refinery and others including airline and postal workers, blocked the access road to the airport, which serves local and nearby international destinations, from dawn, reports MSNBC.

"No vehicles can get through to the car parks," Medhi Rachid of the CGT union chapter at a nearby refinery in Bouches-du-Rhone, told Reuters.

The renewed demonstration came a day after President Nicolas Sarkozy sent in police to clear access to barricaded fuel depots and restore supply as trade unions kept up their resistance on Wednesday to a pension reform due for a final vote this week.

Workers opposed to a two-year higher retirement age also blocked roads to airports around France, leaving passengers in Paris dragging suitcases on foot along an emergency breakdown lane.

Outside the capital, notably in Lyon [pictured] hooded youths smashed store windows amid clouds of tear gas.

Riot police in black body armor forced striking workers away from blocked fuel depots in western France, restoring gasoline to areas where pumps were dry after weeks of protests.

Riot officers in the Paris suburb of Nanterre and the southeastern city of Lyon sprayed tear gas but appeared unable to stop the violence.

With a Senate vote on the reform expected on Friday at the earliest, unions were ramping up the pressure with strikes, go-slows on main roads by truck drivers and work stoppages at regional airports.

Fuel imports hit a record high on Tuesday, the government said, as it tried to get round a 24-day blockade of France's largest oil port, near Marseille, where 51 oil tankers lay idle in the Mediterranean, unable to dock.

With more than 3,000 service stations out of nearly 12,500 in France out of fuel, police could also be deployed to clear access to striking oil refineries, according to Sarkozy's order.

A large rally is scheduled in central Paris on Thursday afternoon.