Sarkozy pledges help as French fishermen step up protests
In a letter to the national fishermen’s association, the French president says he is determined to defend the interests of the fishermen.21 May 2008
PARIS - President Nicolas Sarkozy promised Tuesday to help French fishermen cope with high fuel costs as they blocked more fuel depots including France's largest oil terminal in Marseille.
A 10-day protest by Atlantic fishermen spread this week to France's number one port in Marseille, where around 50 fishermen on Tuesday used tyres and crates to set up roadblocks cutting access to the Fos-sur-Mer oil terminal.
In the city centre, hundreds of striking dockers and port handling staff clashed with police Tuesday morning as a port privatisation bill went before the French Senate.
In a letter to the president of the national fishermen's association, Sarkozy said he had asked the government to undertake a case-by-case study of the struggling fishing industry.
A three-year EUR 310 million rescue plan for the industry will be "adjusted in the coming days to this new context," Sarkozy wrote in the letter released to the press.
"You can count on my determination to defend the interests of this sector that is essential to our coastal economy," he wrote.
The roadblock in Fos-sur-Mer caused a tailback of some 100 tanker trucks waiting to enter, according to an AFP correspondent.
Fishermen also set up a separate blockade off a BP Mobil depot in Frontignan along the Mediterranean coast, unions and officials said.
But they ended their protest launched a day earlier at the Lavera oil terminal near Marseille, a union official said.
Fishermen kept up a protest at the Atlantic fuel depot in La Rochelle launched on Sunday, triggering fears of gas shortages that prompted car owners to queue at petrol stations.
The fuel depot at Port-La-Nouvelle in the southern Aude region was also paralysed by protesting fishermen who set up roadblocks on Monday, a port official said.
About 50 angry fishermen blocked access to two fuel storage sites in Caen that supply the region, preventing trucks from entering the area, police said.
The fishermen were widening their action ahead of a meeting on Wednesday with Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Michel Barnier to press demands for more compensation.
They say the aid package is no longer enough to cope with the increase in the price of diesel to over EUR 0.70 per litre, from EUR 0.40 in November.
In the northern port city of Cherbourg, some 60 fishermen ransacked the fish stands at four supermarkets to draw attention to their plight while the cross-Channel port at Dieppe remained paralysed for a second day.
Fishermen who went on strike at Boulogne-sur-mer in the north on Monday decided to use their boats to block off the major fishing port and prevented ferry services across the Channel to Dover from operating.
They were planning to extend their protest to seal off ports in Calais and Dunkirk on Wednesday, according to Jean Thiebaut from the CFDT union representing fishermen.
The fishermen's protest was compounded by strike action by port workers opposed to government plans to privatise some operations.
In Marseille, protesting port workers threw rocks, bottles and chairs from cafe terraces at police, who responded by firing tear gas, a police spokesman said.
There were also disruptions in Saint-Nazaire when several hundred port workers staged a protest in the city.
[AFP / Expatica]