French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has held emergency talks about the country's energy supplies as blockades continue at fuel depots. French workers have been striking against planned changes to the labor laws.
In an interview with the French capital's "Le Parisien" newspaper on Saturday, Valls insisted there would be no u-turn on the controversial reforms which have angered French unions. They have led to fuel protests and blockades that have practically brought the country to a standstill.
The worsening strikes have led to shortages at petrol stations across France, leading to the release of strategic oil reserves, and violent clashes between police and protesters.
The action comes just weeks before soccer fans flood into the country for the Euro 2016 championships and while the country is under a state of emergency first imposed after the attacks in Paris last November. Valls said last month: "The state of emergency cannot be permanent but for these big events ... we have decided to prolong it." The emergency will be in force for both the Euro 2016 football championship and the Tour de France cycling event.
While saying that he respected unions' constitutional right to strike, Valls said the blockades were a step too far, adding that they "infringe on free movement, hamper employees or those who are looking for a job; in general it's low income people who suffer the most in this situation."
Labor unions have pledged to intensify their action and two of the seven central unions have demanded the complete withdrawal of the legislation.
But Valls insisted that the proposed labor reforms had already been altered several times at the insistence of unions, and that the government would press on with plans to make it easier for companies to hire and fire workers. The proposals have been backed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF)
On Friday, police moved in to clear most of the blockades at fuel depots, but shortages were still being felt at around 20 percent of petrol stations, the government said.
Valls, along with Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and Secretary of Transport Alain Vidalies, held emergency talks with industry representatives on Saturday, to take stock of the country's fuel supply.
"The situation is improving this morning," Transport Minister Vidalies said after the meeting, while cautioning that it was too early to say the petrol crisis had been resolved. "We cannot yet say the crisis is over."
Strikes to worsen
Further protests are expected next week with strikes expected to hit domestic public transport and flights on Tuesday.
Earlier this week, France's civil aviation body appealed to airlines to fuel up before arriving in Paris from European destinations to ensure they could make the return flight.
Strikes also continued at nuclear power stations - which provide three-quarters of the country's electricity - but have so far failed to affect supply, authorities said.
The CGT union has called for rolling strikes on the Paris Metro network to start on June 10, the day Euro 2016 begins, adding to security concerns after last year's terror attacks in the city.
mm/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)