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French fuel crisis: 'A quarter' of petrol stations run dry
Workers on strike block the access to the harbour of Saint-Nazaire, western France to protest against the government's planned labour law reforms. Photo: AFP

French fuel crisis: 'A quarter' of petrol stations run dry

Ben McPartland · 24 May 2016, 14:05

Published: 24 May 2016 14:05 GMT+02:00
Updated: 24 May 2016 14:05 GMT+02:00

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The French government is still urging the public not to panic but the fuel crisis appeared to be worsening on Tuesday.

On Monday night the transport minister said that some 2,400 petrol stations out of 12,000 around the country had either run out of fuel or were running very low (take a closer look at exactly which ones are closed here).

That figure was a jump of almost 1,000 from Monday morning, when some 1,500 petrol stations, mainly in the north and west of the country, were empty.

According to the Le Parisien newspaper, however, the figure is even higher. The paper reported on Tuesday afternoon that 3,219 stations are empty or running low, over a quarter of all stations in France. 

Check out their interactive map here
The shortages have seen long queues of cars as motorists wait to fill up their tanks, and some drivers have even hopped across the border into Belgium to fill up their cars.

"We are in the front line of this conflict. Without petrol we can't work," said Amazigh, a 24-year-old lorry driver, who was filling his tank in the Belgian border town of Tournai.

However distributors were reportedly confident they could get supplies through to petrol stations on Tuesday. 

The shortages have been caused by a combination of hardline CGT union members blockading oil refineries and fuel depots and panicked motorists filling up their tanks fearing a shortage.

Blockades at five of the refineries run by Total in France will cause the French oil giant to "seriously review" its domestic investments, the group's CEO has said.
Patrick Pouyanne said the full or partial crippling of its refineries by union activists protesting France's labour laws "will lead us to seriously review the investment plans we have for all sites in France" under a restructuring programme.

The mood among the public was mixed. While many were frustrated at the long wait for fuel, some supported the union's fight against the labour reforms.

However others blasted the unions for their action which prevented ordinary workers from being to do their jobs.

On Tuesday the government toughened its tone and took direct action to end the blockades.

At Fos-sur-Mer on the south coast riot police were sent in early on Tuesday to break the blockade around the refinery and oil depot, which had been in place since the weekend.

There were reports of clashes between militants and police with officers coming under a hail of objects before responding with tear gas.

Union leaders described the show of force by the authorities as a “declaration of war”.

On Tuesday morning the CGT union, which is protesting against the government’s controversial labour reforms, hit back by announcing that there would be strike movements in all eight of France’s oil refineries.

It is unclear how or even if this will impact on production. Much will depend on how many workers join the walk-out.

At the oil terminal in the port of Le Havre, which handles 40 percent of France’s fuel imports, workers voted overwhelmingly to strike.

On Monday scores of other blockades were in place at fuel depots around the country, with unions vowing their fight against the labour reforms, which they see as favouring businesses over workers, would not run out of fuel.

The government stepped up its criticism of France’s most powerful hardline union with PM Manuel Valls accusing the CGT of “blackmail” and blasted the blockades as “unjustifiable”.

Meanwhile Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron told unions to “allow the France that is working, a France that produces, a France that believes in its future, to advance.”

The public are still being told not to panic and avoid filling up their petrol tanks simply out of precaution.

The government says it the country has around 90 days-worth of back-up fuel supplies if the tanks do all run dry, although many suggest the real figure would be more around 60 days.

Story continues below…

However the crisis could be exacerbated with rail services set to be hit by a two-day strike on Wednesday and Thursday.

READ ALSO: Here is where France is hit hardest by fuel shortages

Here is where France is hit hardest by fuel shortages

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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