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France starts using strategic reserves as fuel runs dry
Photos: AFP

France starts using strategic reserves as fuel runs dry

Ben McPartland · 25 May 2016, 08:22

Published: 25 May 2016 08:22 GMT+02:00

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French police stepped up their efforts to ease the fuel crisis on Wednesday with riot police moving in to break up a blockade that had been in place around fuel depots in the north of the country.

The government has shown it is not willing to negotiate with the CGT union behind the blockade of refineries and fuel depots by once again sending in the riot police on Wednesday.

Officers cleared the blockade set up by around 80 militants from the CGT and Sud unions at the Douchy-les-Mines fuel depot near the northern town of Valenciennes (see photos). Most petrol stations in the surrounding area had run out of fuel.

Police moved in at around 5am and used water cannons to clear away the strikers before pulling down the barricades.

The action came a day after riot police were called in to clear the barricades from outside the Fos-sur-Mer refinery on the south coast.

On Tuesday France’s transport minister Alain Vidalies said around one fifth of the 12,000 petrol stations around the country had either run out of fuel or were about to.

However some media reports suggested the real figure may be as high as 30 percent.

(Photo: AFP)

The government has urged drivers not to panic and only head to the petrol pumps if necessary. However The Local's readers have told of their struggles to find petrol in all parts of France, although some have had it harder than others - mostly those living in the north west of the country.

French petrol industry chiefs say panic buying among the public has worsened the crisis with demand for petrol having increased by five times in recent days in certain parts of the country. Suppliers have simply been unable to meet that demand.

As a result, Francis Duseux, president of the French union of Petroleum Industry (UFIP) said they had been forced to dip into the country's strategic fuel reserves. 

"For the past two days, since there have been operational problems at the refineries, blockades of depots, we have been using reserve supplies," said Duseaux.

Petrol rationing was imposed across much of northern France and many motorists were crossing the border to fill up in Belgium.

A few minutes' drive from France, in Hertain, Belgium, 24-year-old lorry driver Amazigh was grateful for the lifeline.

(Photo: AFP)

"Without petrol, we can't work. Here, I filled up for tomorrow and I can go back to Lille," the French city just 18 kilometres (11 miles) away.

The strikes and blockades by refinery workers threaten to paralyse France weeks ahead of the Euro 2016 tournament and come after a three-month tug-of-war over labour reforms.

The oil refinery strikes organised by the CGT, France's biggest union, are part of a bigger wave of social unrest over controversial reforms that has seen thousands of people take to the streets nationwide in recent months.

Locked in an intractable battle of wills with the Socialist government, CGT leader Philippe Martinez vowed on Tuesday to continue the strikes until the labour legislation is withdrawn.

Martinez remained defiant.

Most people in France opposed the labour reforms that the union was fighting, he told BFMTV. The prime minister was playing "a dangerous game" trying to set the CGT against the wider population, he said.

At least six out of the eight refineries in France have either stopped operating or have reduced output due to strikes and blockades.

In France, another nationwide day of strikes and demonstrations against the draft law has been called for Thursday, while a two day rail strike was set to disrupt services on Wednesday.

Story continues below…

To make matters worse, air traffic control unions could be set for a three day strike in early June and Paris transport workers have announced an "indefinite" walk-out starting on June 2nd. 

This all comes as hundreds of thousands of fans are set to descend on the country for the Euro 2016 football tournament, which starts on June 10th.

Opponents of the labour reforms say they are too pro-business and will do little to reduce France's jobless rate of around 10 percent.

But an International Monetary Fund report has backed the government, arguing the reforms are needed to reduce unemployment.

The government controversially used a special presidential decree to force the legislation through parliament without a vote earlier this month.

It still faces a vote in the Senate, the upper house of parliament.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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