French government takes hard line on fuel strikes, shortages

The French government promised Tuesday to continue cracking down on fuel worker strikes that have led to shortages around the country, after police used tear gas to clear out strikers blocking a refinery and fuel depot in southern France.

"We will not accept, we cannot accept that a [...] minority block the refineries," Prime Minister Manuel Valls said, adding that a small number of radicals were taking France "hostage." He said that the state would continue to evacuate the sites of the strikes.

Valls' spoke shortly after French President Francois Hollande also characterized the strikers' strategy as a "minority" view during an interview with France Culture radio, dismissing comparisons to mass strikes seen across France in 1968.

In southern France, officers said they had to use tear gas because of resistance by the workers at a fuel depot in Fos-sur-mer. Police prefect Laurent Nunez told BFMTV that the strikers threw objects at them and ignited tyres and pallettes.

Union organizer Emmanuel Lepine accused authorities of using excessive force and said the site resembled "scenes from a war."

Many strikers were members of umbrella union CGT, one of France's largest unions, which has called for mass actions on multiple days over the past months.

They, and other unions and organizations, are calling for a withdrawal or amendment of disputed labour reforms relaxing regulations for dismissing employees. The government hopes the move will ease unemployment, but opponents see it as eroding hard-won workers' rights.

CGT Secretary General Philippe Martinez said Valls was playing a "dangerous game" by trying to pit his union against the country's citizens. Speaking on broadcaster BFM-TV, Martinez said the actions were voted on by a majority of the union's refinery workers.

All of the countries eight refineries were affected by strikes, the CGT told iTele broadcaster. Transport Secretary Alain Vidalies said 20 per cent of stations were impacted, but declined to characterize the situation as a shortage pointing to existing stocks in fuel depots.

Vidalies said the problem was a "logistical" one, adding that the government would open up the access to depots blocked by strikers as it had done with the fuel depot in Fos-sur-mer.

Last update: Tue, 24/05/2016 - 13:32
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