French strikes spark panic at the pump

French truckers blocked highways
and officials deployed police to prevent strikers from cutting fuel supplies as
the standoff hardened over President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plans to raise the
retirement age to 62.

With all the country’s refineries
on strike, industry groups said about 15 per cent of service stations are dry,
and the Interior Ministry activated a crisis committee to manage energy
supplies.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said
the government won’t give in to demands that it suspend parliamentary debate on
the pension bill and keep the minimum retirement age at 60. Sarkozy’s ministers
sought to guarantee fuel supplies, as police moved to ensure access to storage
sites amid a second week of refinery strikes.

Unions have called for a day of
protests today, Tuesday, to be accompanied by the fourth national strike in two
months. The Senate is scheduled to complete passage of the pension bill Wednesday.
France’s eight major unions will meet on 21 October to decide how to continue
their movement.

France’s civil-aviation authority
has asked airlines to cancel half their flights from Paris’ second airport at
Orly, and 30 per cent at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle, the largest. Air France SA
said it will limit cancelations to domestic and European destinations.

About 15 per cent of France’s
12,000 service stations have run out of some or all types of fuel.

Total SA, Europe’s biggest refiner,
said about 400 service stations out of the 4,000 it operates in France had run
out of some products. Diesel, which powers 77 per cent of cars sold in France,
is the product with the tightest supply, they said.