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French police break up blockade at refinery amid fuel shortages

Boris Horvat, AFP | Members of France’s hardline CGT union blockade the Fos-sur-Mer oil depot and refinery near the southern port city of Marseille on May 23, 2016.

French police broke up a blockade at the Fos-sur-Mer oil depot and refinery near the southern port city of Marseille on Tuesday after the hardline CGT and FO unions launched a strike in protest against proposed government labour reforms.

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French police began dismantling the barricade at 4:15am local time, according to local authorities, which said the operation took nearly two hours to complete. One officer was injured in the fray, during which protesters threw projectiles and police fired bouts of teargas.

The union-led blockade – one of several set up at refineries and depots across France over the weekend – was to demand the withdrawal of the government’s controversial labour reforms, which have sparked months of protests, some of which have descended into violence.

On Monday, Transport Minister Alain Vidalies announced that 1,500 out of a total of 12,000 petrol stations across France had either run out of petrol or were close to running dry.

The northwest of the country was worst hit over the weekend. As deliveries dwindled, drivers were forced to seek out petrol stations that had not run out of fuel.

Authorities said the situation was exacerbated by some motorists rushing to stock up because they feared supplies were about to run out.

Despite the strikes, France's Socialist government has made it clear that it will stand by the disputed labour reforms.

Speaking during a visit to Israel on Sunday, Prime Minister Manuel Valls condemned the blockade of the fuel depots and said the authorities would keep working to lift them.

"I'm asking everyone to face up to reality, not to put the country's economy in difficulty and to respect the users," Valls told BFMTV.

Labour reforms 'will be passed'

He was defiant about the labour market reforms.

"The labour law will go to the end of its parliamentary passage," he told France’s BFMTV.

Finance Minister Michel Sapin condemned the CGT union, saying that it was perfectly acceptable to protest against the labour reform bill, but adding “there is a certain point... at which the action becomes illegitimate," he told iTELE.

The government says the changes contained in the draft labour law will make France's notoriously rigid labour market more flexible and create jobs.

The government forced the bill through the lower house of parliament earlier this month without a vote.

Opponents say the reforms will erode job security and do little to bring down the unemployment rate, stuck at 10 percent and nearly 25 percent for young people.

The proposed law has led to months of strikes, protest marches and demonstrations.

Last week, train drivers and air traffic controllers walked off the job, causing cancellations across the country.

Many of the rallies and demonstrations have ended in confrontation between masked youths and riot police.

Over the past two months, some 350 members of the security forces have been injured during demonstrations.

Much of the unrest has been blamed on small groups of troublemakers who appear bent on targeting the security services.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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