PARIS (AP) — French police used water cannons on Tuesday to disperse projectile-throwing protesters blocking a key fuel depot on the Mediterranean, as gasoline shortages spread around the country amid increasingly tense labor actions.
Strikes have spread to all eight of France’s refineries, and one in five gas stations are now dry or running low.
A two-month protest movement against a bill weakening France’s famed worker protections reached a new level this week as fuel industry workers joined in — and it’s now posing the biggest challenge yet to President Francois Hollande and his government.
Other forms of transport may provide little relief: unions plan strikes on the SNCF rail system and the Paris subways and buses later this week.
The CGT union, whose hard-left flank is driving the movement, reacted angrily to the overnight police advance on the depot at Fos-sur-Mer. Police descended in the darkness, pushing out picketing workers gathered around burning tires. After the blockade was cleared, fuel trucks that had been stuck for days outside the depot resumed traffic, but faced long delays loading up.
“Other sites will be liberated,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Europe-1 radio. “I’m very determined.”
The striking workers are determined too, pledging to keep fighting until the government withdraws its disputed labor reforms. The government is trying to rejigger rules governing the work week, overtime pay and other labor protections, something opponents say will weaken protections without promoting job creation.
The junior minister for transport, Alain Vidalies, said on i-Tele television that 20 percent of gas stations around the country are facing shortages as of Tuesday morning and unions are threatening to stop production at all of France’s eight refineries.
Consumers, meanwhile, are throwing themselves at the pumps in anticipation of further problems. France’s BFMTV even broadcast images of French drivers crossing the border to fill up in Belgium.
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