French petroleum firms request emergency supplies

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France's petroleum distributors on Thursday urged the government to release emergency stocks from the strategic reserve to avert shortages due to a strike blocking most of the country's oil refineries.

It also called for measures to dislodge the protestors who are blocking fuel depots as part of ongoing action against President Nicolas Sarkozy's bid to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.

"On average, we each have around 10 days of supplies in our depots," said Jean-Louis Schilansky, head of the suppliers' federation. "We ask permission to dip into the reserve stocks available to distributors, to support customers beyond these 10 days."

France has 17 million tonnes of refined fuel products and crude oil in its strategic reserve, the equivalent of 98.5 days of normal consumption.

Most of this stock is held in storage by a national committee, but around five million tonnes is already with private distributors, monitored and not normally allowed to be put on the market.

France is in the grip of a series of strikes by workers protesting plans to raise the minimum pension age, and 11 of its 12 mainland refineries are either shut or severely disrupted.

Schilansky also asked for the state to "unblock the depots which protestors are preventing from working."

The government has tried to play down fears of fuel shortages, insisting that France has enough fuel on hand to see out the action, but panic buying has broken out in some areas, putting a strain on supplies.

© 2010 AFP

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