French unions outraged as police break fuel blockade

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French unions voiced outrage Friday after police broke up a picket at a key refinery serving Paris and an emergency decree ordered strikers there back to work amid ongoing pension reform protests.

The head of the powerful CGT union, Bernard Thibault criticised the government for "purely and simply preventing the right to strike as guaranteed by the constitution" after police took control of Grandpuits oil refinery.

"Overwhelmed by the massive mobilisation of workers against their pension reform, the president and his government are retreating behind a position of denial and drifting towards a policy of repression and police violence," he said in a statement.

The CGT "condemns this judicially illegal and politically insane action" of requisitioning workers which "hijacks the content of the law which is framed by decisions of the constitutional court and the state council."

Police scuffled with pickets at Grandpuits and removed a barricade of burning tyres shortly after union leaders told reporters they had been served with the legal notice to get back to work.

This order, known in France as a "requisition", can be issued by French authorities when they believe a strike poses a threat to public order. It compels strikers to return to work, under threat of prosecution.

The CGT's Total representative Charles Foulard slammed "raids on those exercising their right to strike", drawing a parallel with the World War II pro-Nazi regime of Philippe Petain.

"In our country's history we have gone through moments of Petain. Today, there are raids on our social gains, raids on our pensions, raids on the right to strike," Foulard told France Info radio.

"When will there be raids on union delegates?" he said.

The FO union's petrochemical branch issued a statement criticising "a filthy and stinking policy", accusing French President Nicolas Sarkozy of wanting to "rewrite the history of France, by forcefully requisitioning workers."

For two months France has been in the grip of a wave of protests against Sarkozy's bid to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 and set the latest threshold for full pension payments at 67.

© 2010 AFP

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