French pension bill riots cause havoc
Striking public sector workers caused disruption across France on Tuesday as ‘troublemakers’ piggybacked protest marches to torch cars, smash windows and fight police. Riots sweep France as strikes grow
French truck drivers staged go-slow operations on highways, trains were cancelled and gas stations ran out of fuel yesterday as strikers dug in ahead of a key government vote this week on an unpopular pension overhaul.
Riot police used tear gas and rubber pellet guns in the Paris suburb of Nanterre to break up a crowd of youths who set fire to cars near an anti-reform protest by secondary school students. They intervened for similar reasons in the city of Lyon.
The interior ministry said police arrested 290 rioters in various towns.
Wider strikes will hit everything from air travel to mail today when unions opposed to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to raise the retirement age to 62 from 60 have called for another street protest.
With a final Senate vote on the legislation expected tomorrow, this could be a make-or-break week for Sarkozy.
The centre-right government, which has stood firm through months of anti-pension reform protests, assured that public infrastructure would not freeze up despite a week-long strike at refineries that has dried up supplies at hundreds of France’s 12,500 gas stations.
“The situation is critical,” a spokeswoman at Exxon Mobil said. “Anyone looking for diesel in the Paris and Nantes [western France] regions will have problems.”
Sarkozy, in the northern seaside town of Deauville for talks with the leaders of Germany and Russia, said he would not back down. “The reform is essential and France is committed to it and will go ahead with it just as our German partners did,” he told reporters after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Workers at France’s 12 refineries were in their seventh day of a strike and protesters blocked access at many fuel distribution depots around the country.
The French aviation authority urged airlines to reduce flights to Paris’s Orly airport by 50 per cent and to all other airports by 30 per cent today.
Today will be the sixth major work stoppage and street demonstration since June, but the unrest has intensified.
As many as 1,800 service stations have run short of fuel in recent days. At an empty station on Paris’s Champs Elysees avenue, the manager said she spent much of her morning trying to stop drivers unhooking fuel pumps.
“It’s madness, we’re submerged,” she said.