Head of fishing committee urges fishermen to end protests
The leader’s call to end protests comes after the government agrees to unlock promised aid.22 May 2008
PARIS - A French fishermen's leader on Wednesday called an end to protests that crippled cross-Channel traffic after the government agreed to unlock promised aid.
Following a day of talks, during which fishermen clashed with police outside, Pierre-Georges Dachicourt, president of the national fishing committee, said: "Everyone must now get back to work. I call on all fishing crews to return to the sea."
His appeal came after Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Michel Barnier announced that EUR 110 million from a promised EUR 310 million package would be spent this year.
Fishermen held meetings to discuss the negotiations, but it remained unclear whether the call would be heeded by fishermen who launched the protests on 10 May to press for compensation for soaring fuel costs.
"We are not very satisfied with the announcement," said Frederic Mateo, from a union representing trawler crews in Marseille in the south. Mateo described the government promise as "vague"
The fishermen escalated their protests, disrupting cross-Channel traffic and clashing with police in Paris as the government negotiated with the fishing committee.
Hundreds of ferry passengers were held up on either side of the Channel coast as fishermen formed blocked Calais, Dieppe, Boulogne-sur-mer and Saint-Malo.
The British port of Dover was also closed to ferry traffic as a result of the French protests, causing a tailback of trucks on the main highway from London.
Passengers in France were rerouted to other ports such as Cherbourg or Le Havre, or to the Channel Tunnel. Eurotunnel said it increased services to try to accommodate the extra passengers.
In Paris, hundreds of fishermen clashed with police as their representatives met with Barnier. Four police officers were injured in the violence, the interior ministry said.
Barnier said the money would be disbursed over two years instead of three to help cushion the cost of diesel fuel that has shot up to EUR 0.70 a litre, from EUR 0.40 in November.
Angry fishermen launched their protest movement in the Atlantic ports near La Rochelle and it quickly spread to northern France and the Mediterranean this week.
Fishermen blocked commercial ports, marinas and fuel depots including France's main oil terminal at Fos-sur-mer near Marseille. They have also ransacked fish stands at half a dozen supermarkets.
Motorists rushed to stock up at filling stations around La Rochelle on the Atlantic, and shortages were reported near Montpellier on the Mediterranean coast. One depot remained blocked in the northern town of Caen.
In La Rochelle, dozens of farmers joined the striking fishermen who manned roadblocks cutting off access to the La Pallice fuel depot and commercial port, saying they too could not cope with the high price of fuel.
"We are in the same boat," said David Linassier, president of a local farmers' group. "The high price of diesel is also having a dramatic impact on our farming businesses."
Fishermen at Boulogne-sur-mer, France's top fishing port, gave away hundreds of kilos of fish for EUR 1 per kilogram while in Calais they gave away free fish.
The fishermen are also annoyed at their catches being curbed by European quotas while imported fish is being sold in hypermarkets.
The protest came on the eve of a nationwide strike called by public sector and transport unions to protest pension reforms and which are expected to draw major street protests.
[AFP / Expatica]