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French police break up fuel depot blockades

French police cleared protesters blockading fuel depots and skirmished with young demonstrators as the government warned of economic damage from the prolonged strikes.

Fuel trucks

Oil trucks have begun to leave fuel depots again

The first fuel depots where cleared of blockades by the police overnight after one-third of France's petrol stations had run dry due to a strike of oil refinery workers and barricades set up at several depots.

"We will continue to unblock these depots as much as necessary," Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said on Wednesday. "We will not let the country be blockaded and will not let the thugs go unpunished," he added, referring to the violence that erupted Tuesday during nationwide strikes.

According to authorities more than 1,400 people had been taken in for questioning. More than 60 police offers were injured in the riots.

Clashes continue

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

Sarkozy says he will press the reform 'to its conclusion'

The clashes between police and protesters continued on Wednesday. Many of the country's motorways and airports remained blockaded as protests against the government's pension reforms continued for the seventh day in a row.

Demonstrators blocked access to airports in Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nantes and Clermont-Ferrand, while truck drivers obstructed traffic on more than a dozen motorways throughout the country.

President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday warned that the strikes could have serious consequences for the country's economy.

"If it is not stopped quickly, this disorder, which is aimed at paralyzing the country, could have consequences for jobs by damaging the normal running of economic activity," he said in a statement.

Sarkozy added that despite the protests the government would persist in pushing for unpopular pension reforms. He ordered the police to break the blockades at the country's fuel depots.

Demonstrators

Protesters have vowed to march whether or not the bill is passed

Broad public support

Opinion polls suggest the strikers still have the support of the majority of the French.

French daily Les Echos published a poll on Wednesday that said that 59 percent of the country wanted the unions to continue with the protests.

The pension reforms are aimed at raising the standard retirement age from 60 to 62 and full pension benefits from 65 to 67.

The French senate is to vote on the unpopular bill later this week.

Author: Andreas Illmer (dpa, Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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