French government scrambles to stem fuel shortages as protests continue
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French junior transport minister Alain Vidalies on Saturday said fuel shortages sparked by nationwide strikes and blockades were easing, but warned the crisis was not over.
Vidalies tried to reassure the public after a week in which French motorists rushed to the petrol pump, forming long queues and draining many stations dry.
“The situation this morning is improving. In certain regions the situation is almost back to normal and in others, we will remain very vigilant,” Vidalies said. “We cannot say the crisis is over yet.”
The junior minister spoke to reporters after an emergency meeting with Prime Minister Manuel Valls, as well as energy and transport executives.
Panic at the pump has been among the most serious effects of weeks of strikes and demonstrations by angry student groups and workers.
Unions have staged walk outs at refineries, blocked fuel depots and disrupted travel across the country.
The powerful CGT and other French unions are fighting the government's attempt to reform the French labor market, saying the new measures will only increase unemployment and weaken job security.
France’s Socialist government has sent riot police to break up picket lines at fuel depots, but unions have promised to return and even extend actions.
“Operations to unblock depots will continue if it proves necessary,” Vidalies told reporters. “The situation is getting better, but we must continue our efforts.”
Valls said he was determined to maintain the contested reform, which his government forced through Parliament without a vote on May 17 for fear it would not be approved by a majority of lawmakers.
"When the bill has been discussed, when it has prompted a compromise with unions, when it has been adopted in the National Assembly, I consider it my responsibility to see it through," Valls said in an interview with Le Parisien daily published on Saturday.
Expressing hope that violent protests would not escalate further, Valls said he respected the labour unions but found their actions “unacceptable”.
A recent opinion poll by Opinionway for the LCI news channel revealed that up to 66 percent of people in France thought the government should repeal the labour law.
Unions said they would launch fresh protests this week and in the run-up to the 2016 Euro football tournament that kicks off in France on June 10.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)
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