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Police break fuel blockade as key pension vote looms

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-10-22

The French government has applied "special measures" to make sure its unpopular pensions reform law is passed by the Senate on Friday, as riot police moved in to break a blockade on a key fuel depot near Paris.

Riot police on Friday broke up a picket line at a French oil refinery, as the French government vowed to stand firm in the face of determined opposition to its deeply unpopular pension reform.

Early on Friday morning, CRS riot police arrived at an oil refinery at Grandpuits near Paris to break one of the many blockades that have caused huge disruption to petrol deliveries across the country. The blockades have also caused electricity shortages.

The officers were enforcing a government order to force the strikers who had been camping out outside the depot for days, to allow the refinery to restart deliveries of much-needed fuel.

Known as a "requisition", the order can be issued by the authorities when they believe a strike poses a threat to public order.

It compels strikers to return to work, under threat of prosecution.

Union representatives at the site said at least three people had been injured in scuffles with the police and vowed to challenge the police enforcement.

Charles Foulard, CGT union representative for the Total Group’s employees, told FRANCE 24: “We will be taking this to the courts. Clearly we want to challenge the legality of this takeover.

“It is a direct obstruction of our right to strike.”

Between 20 and 21% of petrol stations across France were empty on Friday, Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo reported.

The government also announced Friday that while getting the situation back to normal would take "several days", there were no plans for rationing and motorway service stations wee top priority as families prepared for the half term holidays. 

Pressure to get a Senate vote on Friday

Meanwhile, the government stepped up pressure on the Senate Thursday night to cut short voting procedures on more than 250 amendments to the unpopular pension reform bill in a bid to get it passed before the weekend.

The government resorted to a special measure to speed the reform bill's passage through the Senate, with a vote expected later on Friday.

Labour Minister Eric Woerth told France 2 television Friday that the measure was not a strong-arm tactic but the “application of Constitutional rules”.

Once the bill is passed, a cross-parliamentary committee made up of seven MPs and seven senators will be created in order to finalise the text.

This final text will be subject to a further vote in both houses – the National Assembly and the Senate – before the end of the month.

A fresh wave of strikes and protests

Despite the government’s action, French unions have called for fresh strikes on October 28 and November 6 whether the bill is voted in or not.

“We want these days of strikes and demonstrations to be huge,” Nadine Prigent of the CGT union told FRANCE 24. “What we are saying to workers is that we can still stop these reforms.”

On Thursday, Union leader Bernard Thibault told RMC Radio: “There is no reason at all to stop. There is no other alternative while the government remains intransigent.”

Unions have demonstrated an ability to mobilise a huge number of supporters and have the backing of some 70 percent of the population, according to polls conducted last week.

One important precedent that continues to give the unions heart is the reversal of a 2006 law on work contracts (CPE) that would have given employers greater flexibility but left new employees with less job security.

That law was reversed - even after it had been approved by France’s upper house of parliament, the Senate - following massive demonstrations.

Date created : 2010-10-22

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