Hundreds of petrol stations across France have run out of fuel as strikes and blockades against pension reform intensify ahead of another wave of mass protests.
Fears of fuel shortages deepened on Monday as French oil workers continued to blockade refineries and oil depots across the country in protest at President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plans to raise the legal retirement age to 62.
French authorities tried to downplay the risk of shortages, but on the ground anxious drivers have been lining up to refuel at petrol stations across the country.
Dominique Bussereau, France's secretary of state for transport, appealed for "common sense" on Sunday, acknowledging that some 200 petrol stations had encountered difficulties with supplies. According to French daily Le Parisien, 800 service stations out of the country’s 12,500 were affected at the weekend.
French Prime Minister François Fillon strongly condemned the blockade late Sunday. “I won't let the French economy suffer from a supply blockage,'' Fillon told French television channel TF1. “The right to strike doesn’t include the right to stop access to a fuel depot,” he said.
Fillon spoke hours after unions vowed to do all they could to get Sarkozy to buckle and withdraw his pension reform or open up negotiations in the make-or-break period ahead of a Senate vote on Wednesday.
French truck drivers said they would block key roads from Sunday evening and rail unions announced new strikes from Monday, adding pressure on the government to withdraw the unpopular reform.
Filling up by precaution
"All our tanks have been empty since yesterday afternoon," an employee at a Total service station, short of petrol, near Paris’s Porte de Saint-Cloud told FRANCE 24 on Sunday. "It’s the direct consequence of the panic of our customers, who preferred to take precautions.” The serviceman said his petrol station would be resupplied with fuel the next day. But by Monday morning none had come.
Another Total petrol station in Issy-les-Moulineaux, went about its business of pumping fuel to clients as usual. There was no queue at around noon, but a steady stream of vehicles stopped there to refuel. "We are clearly busier than usual for a Sunday, some customers are apparently worried," said a station employee. One motorist said he had driven out just to buy petrol after hearing about possible shortages. "After failing twice at two closed stations around Paris, I was finally able to fill up, so, it really is not a rumour," said Marek, 38.
Total said in a statement posted on its website at the weekend that all of its distribution depots of fuel and heating oil were well provisioned and ready for delivery to service stations in its network. But it conceded on Sunday morning that, "in some areas, the pace of sales at petrol stations has accelerated due to precautionary consumer purchases and exceeds the necessary time for replenishment, which causes temporary unavailability".
The president of the French Union of Petroleum Industries (UFIP), Jean-Louis Schilansky, also tried to be reassuring. "The situation is calming. (...) We have the means to deliver to petrol stations in a near-normal manner," he said. Stocks have been "made available", he said, though adding, "we cannot hold on forever".
Bussereau, the transport secretary, sought to calm fears about fuel supplies at Paris’s main airport. Strikes had shut down a fuel pipeline late last week but Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport is now “perfectly fed” after fuel began flowing again this weekend, he said.
Date created : 2010-10-18