Burning cars, tear gas in France pensions protests

18th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

French youths battled riot police, truckers blocked roads and filling stations ran dry as protests escalated Monday against President Nicolas Sarkozy's plan to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at youths who set a car on fire, smashed bus stops and hurled rocks outside a school in Nanterre, near Paris, blocked by students protesting President Nicolas Sarkozy's pensions reform.

Youths threw petrol bombs at police outside a school in another Paris suburb, Combes-la-Ville, police said. In Lyon, hooded youngsters burned at least three cars they had overturned during clashes with riot police.

The interior ministry said police arrested 196 rioters in various towns, and that four police officers had been injured in the scuffles.

Nearly 300 schools were disrupted by protests, officials said, and cities across France saw students take part in fresh street demonstrations, several of which saw police arresting rampaging youths.

Meanwhile, truck drivers also joined the movement that has brought millions onto the streets in recent weeks, and rubbish continued pile up in the streets of Marseille due to a strike by collectors.

"We now need to block the economy to force the government to withdraw its plan," said Vincent Duse, a CGT union leader at an auto factory in Mulhouse.

Truckers staged go-slows on motorways near Paris and several provincial cities, and drivers blocked access to goods supply depots and joined oil workers blocking fuel depots to defend their right to retire at 60.

"The aim was to show we were capable of mobilising people and of blocking a major artery," said CFDT union leader Didier Bonte, whose members staged a go-slow on the A1 motorway from Lille in the north.

Production at all France's oil refineries remained shut down since last week, causing filling stations to run dry.

Another day of mass strikes and nationwide protest rallies is planned for Tuesday, and the unions are hoping to match a series of previous days of action that brought more than a million marchers into the streets.

Half of all flights to and from Paris Orly airport and 30 percent of flights at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle and other French airports will be cancelled due to Tuesday's strikes, aviation officials said.

Sarkozy held the latest in a daily series of meetings on how to deal with the protest movement before the government announced it had activated an emergency crisis cell charged with maintaining fuel supplies.

Unions Labour wants to force Sarkozy to abandon a bill to raise the minimum retirement age to 62, which is in the final days of its journey through a parliament in which the right-wing leader enjoys a comfortable majority.

Sarkozy has staked his credibility on the reform, but unions are hoping for a repeat of 1995, when Jacques Chirac's government backed down on pension reform after a paralysing transport strike.

The government has shown no sign of backing down on the reform which is currently being examined by the Senate. A final vote was expected this Wednesday but hundreds of amendments remain to be debated.

Most French back the current protests, with a poll published Monday in the popular Le Parisien daily showing that 71 percent of those asked expressing either support or sympathy.

In a sign of their impact, around 1,500 filling stations on the forecourts of French supermarkets had run out of fuel by Monday, their industry association said.

Some 4,500 of France's 12,500 filling stations are attached to shopping centres, and supply 60 percent of the fuel used by French motorists.

Oil workers maintained their pickets or threw up new ones at fuel depots.

"We will stay here as long as we can," said the CFDT's Joseph Sieiro, one of the hundred people, most of them truckers, who turned up to block an oil terminal at Port-La-Nouvelle in southern France.

The opposition Socialists again denounced Sarkozy and Prime Minister Francois Fillon for failing to engage in dialogue over the reforms.

"We have a prime minister who thinks he is Churchill but who is only Thatcher," said the party's number two, Harlem Desir, referring to Britain's revered wartime leader and its 1980s Conservative premier.

"He is trying to make us think he is carrying out great reforms to save our economy but in fact he is smashing our social model."

© 2010 AFP

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