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French police force open fuel depot

French riot police have pushed aside striking oil workers and forced the reopening of a strategic refinery.

The action, aimed at reversing growing fuel shortages, took place as the French Senate looked ready to approve the controversial pension reforms at the heart of the union-led protests.

The Interior Ministry said the operation at the Grandpuits fuel refinery succeeded "without incident", but the CGT union said three workers were injured. Emergency workers took stretchers to the depot, which is 50 miles (80km) east of Paris, the closest source of petrol supplies to the French capital.

Helmeted officers in body armour descended overnight on Grandpuits, confronting workers who shoved back and shouted union slogans as they sought to keep police from opening the gates to the depot, run by oil giant Total SA.

"We are outraged, scandalised," said Charles Foulard, a union leader at the Grandpuits depot. The refinery at Grandpuits had been a bastion of resistance to President Nicolas Sarkozy's bid to raise the retirement age to 62.

Despite the government's efforts to conquer resistance, Prime Minister Francois Fillon said it would take several more days to end petrol shortages which are taking a toll on the country's economy.

The Senate neared the end of a debate which has taken more than 130 hours, the second longest for 30 year. MPs, mostly opposition Socialists, submitted a staggering 1,237 amendments, but Mr Sarkozy's conservative UMP party and its allies have a majority and dismissed nearly all the amendments. After the Senate vote, the final text goes back to both houses for final formal approval, which is expected next week.

Unions oppose a pillar of the reform - raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 - and have staged months of strikes and protests which have boiled over into radical action and scattered clashes.

Mr Sarkozy had ordered regional authorities to intervene and force open depots, accusing the strikers of holding ordinary people and the French economy "hostage".


From Belfast Telegraph