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French Port Strike Enters 3rd Week Ahead of New Protests

Tankers wait off Fos-sur-Mer, southern France, as ships are prevented from unloading their cargo due to the strike at French Marseille port's Fos-Lavera, 07 Oct. 2010

A strike at a key French Mediterranean oil port entered its third week Monday, forcing a partial shutdown of a major refinery as the country braces for nationwide protests set for Tuesday.

Workers in the country's top oil port, Fos-Lavera, carried their protest into a 15th day, blocking 56 vessels from off-loading.

Total's La Mede refinery has started to shut down as crude oil supplies to La Mede and other refineries began to dry up. The government started to transport fuel by rail and road to avoid shortages around the country.

Unions have not scheduled any new talks on their protest against port reforms.

Meanwhile, workers in Paris and other major French cities are set to launch an open-ended strike Tuesday to protest pension and retirement reforms championed by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mr. Sarkozy's pension reform bill, already passed by the lower house of parliament, awaits action by the Senate later Monday.

The legislation, which raises the age for a full retirement pension to 67 from the current 65, is turning into one of the most contentious issues of the Sarkozy presidency. Huge worker protests have paralyzed major French cities recently.

Last week the upper house of parliament passed a provision raising the minimum retirement age to 62 from 60.

During that debate, Mr. Sarkozy made a small concession in the pension bill to middle-age women who have given up work to raise children. But he has vowed to push forward with the reforms, saying they are critical to the country's fiscal health.

Meanwhile, transport officials in Paris are warning of major commuter disruptions Tuesday, while the national rail operator (SNCF) says only one in three high-speed trains are expected to run. Aviation authorities say air flights could be cut by 50 percent.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.