French protests jeopardise airport fuel supplies


As strikes over pension plans hit infrastructure, ministers warn of fuel shortage at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport

French protesters challenge pension reform plans as strikes hit  fuel supplies
French protesters take to the streets of Toulouse to challenge pension reform plans as strikes hit fuel supplies. Photograph: Guillaume Horcajuelo/EPA

France’s main airport has only a few days’ worth of jet fuel left, it was announced today, as the strikes against government pension plans continued to disrupt infrastructure.
The transport ministry warned of the fuel shortage at the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris as hundreds of thousands took part in another national protest against President Nicolas Sarkozy’s bill to raise the retirement age.
The country has already endured four days of strikes, affecting flights, rail services, hospitals and schools. Diesel supplies were running low in parts of France as unions announced that workers at all 12 fuel-producing refineries were now on strike, and many depots were being blockaded. Police yesterday forced three crucial fuel depots to reopen.
A ministry spokesman said officials were working to restore aviation fuel supplies, and the transport minister, Dominique Bussereau, said there was no reason to fear a general shortage.

The fuel supply into the Paris region and international airports was cut yesterday from a pipeline running south from Le Havre. Trapil, the company that operates the pipeline to the Paris airports, said Roissy-Charles de Gaulle could run out of fuel as early as next week.
A transport ministry spokesman said reserves would last until late on Monday or Tuesday. But he said the pipeline was now working intermittently, adding: “We are exploring possible solutions to supply the airport [at Roissy]. We are confident.”
Bussereau authorised oil companies to use some reserves after trucking companies complained of difficulties finding fuel.
About 10% of petrol stations have run out of fuel and panic buying has broken out in some areas. A sign at a station in Feyzin, near Lyon, announced a fuel shortage at all pumps and frustrated motorists reported other problems.
“When the government says there will be no shortage, it means there will be a shortage,” said Bernard Martin, a 60-year-old retiree who found no fuel at a Carrefour gas station in Ecully, near Lyon. “Since this morning, there is no more diesel fuel.”
Strikers at oil refineries said their protest was about fighting recession-induced government spending cuts, such as Sarkozy’s plan to raise the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62, and from 65 to 67 for a full state pension.
“[These protests are] an attempt to say stop abusing the workers and citizens,” Christian Coste, head of the CGT Union at Total’s La Mede refinery, said. “We are not here to bring France to its knees and create a shortage, we are here to make ourselves heard.” Workers have been striking for five days straight at the refinery in southern France.
In cities around France excluding Paris, some 340,000 protesters were out in protest by midday, according to the interior ministry. Union figures have been consistently far higher than official counts.
On the streets of Marseille, garbage was left uncollected for the fourth straight day and firefighters had to extinguish some rubbish piles set on fire.
The pension reforms are seen by unions as an attack on their near-sacred social protections. The government says that is the only way to stop a €32bn (£28bn) annual pension shortfall ballooning to €50bn by 2020 and insists people must work longer because they are living longer.
The reforms have already been approved by the national assembly, the lower house of the French parliament. The senate has endorsed the key articles on raising the retirement age, and is due to vote on the full text on Wednesday.
“The French understand that those who are blocking this country are at the head of the government,” CFDT union leader Francois Chereque said.
The CGT union called for the strikes at the SNCF train authority to be strengthened. About one-third of fast trains were hobbled by strikes yesterday, though the Eurostar train to London was running normally today.
A sixth day of protest is set for Tuesday, a day before the senate vote. In another sign of growing protest, truck drivers – the heavyweights of French demonstrations because of their ability to block roads – have heeded a call to join the action.
Maxime Dumont, head of the CFDT union’s trucking section, said drivers could block fuel depots, refineries and food warehouses and clog roads by driving slowly along them. “In the
transport sector we can do a bit more to help the workers. We are going to join the movement to make the government give way,” Dumont said.
More than a million people took to the streets on Tuesday, according to police. Trade unions organisers said 3.5m had taken part.
About 70% of people polled this week think the strikes will build into a national protest movement like the one in 1995, and more than half of those questioned said they would support it.
France has a long tradition of overpowering unpopular government proposals through militancy on the street, although analysts believe many French people are reluctantly coming to terms with the fact that raising the retirement age in line with other European countries is inevitable – though 62 would still be one of the lowest retirement ages in Europe.
Elsewhere, thousands of students and teachers across Italy demonstrated yesterday against planned cuts in education, while Portugal’s minority government faced a battle in parliament over abrupt tax hikes and deep spending cuts.
In Greece, riot police used teargas on hundreds of culture ministry workers yesterday to end a labour dispute that shut down the country’s top attraction, the Acropolis, for three days.

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