French Strikers Cut Fuel Pipeline to Paris

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Reuters

French Strikers Cut Fuel Pipeline to Paris

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French riot policemen uses a flash-ball to disperse high school students during a demonstration in Lyon today. (Photograph: Robert Pratta/Reuters)

Refinery workers cut off a fuel pipeline to Paris today as protesters
piled on pressure to derail French president Nicolas Sarkozy's
unpopular pension reform.

Police broke up blockades at fuel depots
in southern France but protesters blocked a terminal at Paris's Orly
airport and truckers were set to join the fray as momentum built for a
day of street rallies tomorrow.

A nationwide strike is planned on
Tuesday, a day before the Senate is due to vote on a bill to make people
work longer for their pensions.

The protests have become the
biggest challenge facing the centre-right president, who is struggling
with rock-bottom popularity ratings as he tries to appease financial
markets by stemming a ballooning pension shortfall.

Turnout among
striking rail workers dropped to 15 per cent today, from 40 per cent
earlier in the week, but union leaders hope to galvanise the public for
next week's action with the same force that saw a 1995 pension bill
crushed by 24 days of protests. Next Tuesday's strike could hit various
sectors.

"This movement is deeply anchored in the country," CGT union leader Bernard Thibault told LCI television.

"The government is betting on this movement deteriorating, even breaking down. I think we have the means to disappoint them."

France's
main trucking union called on truck drivers to join next Tuesday's
strike, though they may not be able to use their bosses' trucks to block
roads.

The best chance Mr Sarkozy's opponents have of bringing
down his pension bill is if strikes at oil refineries continue and start
to threaten fuel supply, or if youths hit the streets en masse and set
off violent scuffles.

A pipeline supplying fuel to the Paris
region and its airports stopped operating today because of strikes at
northern refineries, a source at the company operating the pipeline
said, and motorists across France stocked up on petrol as depot
blockades squeezed supply.

TV footage showed riot police using
teargas to contain young protesters in the southern city of Lyon and in
Paris police officers got orders to stop using flashball riot control
pellets to quieten crowds after a secondary school student was badly
injured on Thursday.

Students at hundreds of schools across France
joined the protest movement in force from yessterday, shouting
anti-Sarkozy slogans. Dozens have been arrested and today more were
barred by riot police from nearing the prime minister's offices.

Polls
show two-thirds of French people oppose Mr Sarkozy's plan to raise the
minimum retirement age to 62 from 60 and lift the age at which people
can retire on a full pension to 67 from 65.

The government has
been at loggerheads with unions for months over the issue and five
rounds of strike action since the summer have badly disrupted public
transport and air travel.

The strikes have had negligible impact
on France's economy but have sparked worries among financial analysts
about whether France will struggle to push through broader austerity
measures necessary to bring down its deficit.

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