French police removed union-made blockades from 15 fuel depots, easing the fuel crisis amid ongoing strikes, officials have said. President Francois Hollande warned protesters he would not let them choke the economy.
France's fuel supply situation was improving "all over the country," a Transport Ministry spokesman said on Friday, following a week of shortages caused by labor protests.
A proposed labor market reform has sent French union members across the country to the streets in protest, which has included strikes by nuclear plant workers, truckers blocking access to food and fuel depots and extreme leftist groups clashing with the police. Over 150,000 protesters took to the streets on Thursday, according to the Interior Ministry.
On Friday, the police cleared picketers from all 15 blocked fuel depots, with one other facility remaining closed because of a strike, the Transport Ministry said.
"Unblocking these depots will allow an increase in delivery capacity to resupply more and more gas stations," the spokesman added.
Despite the lifting of blockades, six of France's eight oil refineries were either closed or operating at lesser capacity due to the wave of protests. Also, drivers were limited to buying 40 euros ($45) of gasoline per person at many fueling stations in Paris.
Unions not looking to 'drag on' strikes
President Francois Hollande said he would not allow protesters to strangle the French economy.
"I will stand firm because I think it is a good reform," he said from the G7 summit in Japan on Friday.
The government has said believes that changes to the rules on overtime compensation, holiday pay, and the firing and hiring of workers are necessary to reduce unemployment. The unemployment rate currently hovers at around 10 percent and reaches almost 25 percent among young people.
In turn, labor representatives accuse the government of bowing to big business and handing over workers' rights.
The head of the hardline CGT union, Philippe Martinez, said the unions were ready to return to the negotiating table and call off the protests if the authorities backed down.
"The ball is in the government's court," he told Reuters news agency on Friday. "We're not looking for this to drag on. It can stop as soon as Monday."
Unions on Friday, however, added they were prepared to disrupt the European Championships with protests in cities hosting the soccer tournament's matches, which start in France on June 10.
Employers decry 'blackmail'
The Medef employers' federation condemned the "thugs' methods" used by unions and the effects the protests were having on France's economic recovery. The organization's president, Pierre Gattaz, urged the government to "resist their blackmail."
Both Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls are deeply unpopular in France, and the current crisis could prove crucial in determining their political future.
Similar to Hollande, Valls has rejected the calls for the labor reform bill to be scrapped. However, Valls also said it might be possible to make "changes" or "improvements" to it.