Strike hits freight traffic in French ports

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Strike action closed France's main commercial ports Friday, hitting freight traffic in a protest over early retirement and against pension reforms set to last all weekend.

Some cruise ships in the Mediterranean were also obliged to change their routes to avoid being caught up in the action, and two terminals were also affected, forcing rationing of diesel in the Mediterranean ports.

"Most commercial ports are closed", the government's transport ministry told AFP.

The strike action would be renewed every weekend until "a timetable for negotiations has been fixed," said the secretary general of the CGT union's ports and docks branch, Tony Hautbois.

The protests are against a government plan to reform the ports that was passed by parliament in 2008.

Before the government can start to transfer jobs to the private sector, the matter of port workers' early retirement has to be settled.

Diesel rationing has been put in place on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, while all container movement has been shut down at Le Havre in the north and Bordeaux on the west coast.

Similar strike action is taking place at La Rochelle on the west coast and Rouen in the north. Marine traffic was slowed down in parts of Dunkirk port in the north.

Strikers also shut down Marseille-Fos port in the Mediterranean.

"We've blocked all access, this is against both the port reform and the pension reform," Pascal Galeote of the CGT union told AFP in Marseille.

"We said a few days ago that we would toughen our position. The situation today is another step and there will doubtless be other steps taken in the coming days."

"All activity has stopped," since Friday morning, said a spokeswoman for Marseile's GPMM port authority

Cruise ships headed for Marseille are also affected by the strike, with one liner diverted to nearby Toulon on Friday. More than 11,000 passengers were due to arrive at Marseille port over the weekend.

Two oil terminals, at Lavera and Fos-sur-Mer in the Mediterranean, have also been blocked since Monday, with 39 boats awaiting diesel.

On Saturday, French unions will lead nationwide protests against government plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.

© 2010 AFP

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