French fuel supplies back to normal in days

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French fuel supplies will be back to normal in days, an industry official said Saturday after many of the last strikers holding out against President Nicolas Sarkozy's pension reform voted to go back to work.

"Consumers will see a return to normal in the first days of next week," Jean-Louis Schilansky, head of the French Petroleum Industries Union, told AFP.

"There will still be a few points of local difficulty until the middle of the week," he said, while adding that pump prices, which rose as France imported refined fuel from neighbouring countries, would come back down.

A port official said 16 ships were currently discharging crude at the oil terminals of Fos-sur-Mer and Lavera, near Marseille, but authorities say it will take four weeks to deal with the some 80 strikebound ships waiting offshore for a month.

Workers at oil refineries, where industrial action in recent weeks had threatened to paralyse the country, voted to return to work the day after nationwide demonstrations brought only half previous numbers on to the street.

All of France's 12 refineries had been hit by industrial action, as well as dozens of fuel depots, during the weeks of protests which failed to stop the government pushing the pension reform through parliament.

Blockades at oil facilities have cost the industry "hundreds of millions of euros", Schilansky said on Friday.

At least one more day of action is planned on November 6 despite parliament approving the measures, which aides say Sarkozy intends to sign into law on or around November 15.

Sarkozy's approval rating is languishing at a new low of 29 percent, but he nevertheless hopes a pension reform victory can help restore his political fortunes in the run-up to a re-election bid in 2012.

© 2010 AFP

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