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Calais: French strikers put protest on hold

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Calais: French strikers put protest on hold
Trucks are parked on carriageways of the M20 motorway near Ashford in Kent in south-east England, on Wednesday, waiting to board ferries to France. Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP
11:40 CEST+02:00
The port at Calais in northern France partially reopened on Thursday as ferry workers suspended protests that have blocked access for three consecutive days. However ferry services remained limited and strikers have threatened more action.

There was some slight relief for travellers and truckers trying to get across the Channel on Thursday as striking French sailors suspended their blockade of the port.

Ahead of a meeting with Transport Minister Alain Vidalies on Thursday morning, the workers "will maintain pressure on the ships, but will let boats from the company P&O enter one by one... until the end of the negotiations," said Eric Vercoutre, secretary general of the Maritime Nord union.

The British government has become increasingly alarmed at the knock-on effects the strike has had both in Britain and around Calais.

British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke to French President Francois Hollande about the problem and on Thursday the Home Secretary Theresa May was due in Paris for talks with Franc's Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve to try to resolve the problem.

 

 

But thousands of trucks still piled up on both sides of the Channel it will be a while before things returns to normal and P&O ferry operator is still advising passengers to rearrange travel.

 

 

 

The workers from French company MyFerryLink are protesting plans to sell off some of their ferries to rival Danish firm DFDS, a move expected to result in hundreds of job losses.

The protest caused havoc on both sides of the Channel, with British police closing off sections of motorway to park some 3,000 trucks waiting to board ferries to France at Dover.

However the crisis may not quite be over with union leaders having threatened more action on Wednesday.

The union's Vercoutre, who has been a spokesman for the strikers, has threatened to up the ante on Thursday and Friday, which could see them again try to block the Channel Tunnel.

Vercoutre says the thought of riot police intervening to break up their blockade of Calais does not scare them.

Earlier this week Vercoutre, the spokesman for the strikers said promising "to block everything" if they didn't get their way and has also warned of a "summer of much disruption."

Over on the English side of the Channel authorities and haulage associations have grown exacerbated by the French strike.

Ellis Evans, a Welsh truck driver, told The Local that he's been stuck in queues for nearly nine hours. 
 
"There are trucks as far as I can see in front of me, and the queue is five miles long. And people are saying it's the hottest day of the year - the sun is right above us - it's not the kind of day you want to be stuck in a little tin box."
 
He'd heard that he might be waiting up to 48 hours, with no facilities of any kind around, not even toilets, and while he'd heard that people were giving out water, he was yet to see any.
 
Despite suffering under the heat, Evans said he had some sympathy for the French strikers in Calais. 
 
"I can sympathise with them, they're losing their jobs, the rug has been pulled out from under their feet. But they're damaging local business and commerce, and there is a bit of animosity from some people stuck here towards there cause," he said.
 
Peter Cullum from the British Road Haulage Association told The Local on Wednesday that the French government should act as the travel chaos was causing a security threat in a country already on high terror alert.

"I can't understand why they are not invoking this to keep traffic moving. It doesn't take a genius to work out that this is a security issue. At the moment people are stranded all over northern France."

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