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French Strikers Block Fuel Line, Protests to Continue

Strikers from the Donges' Total refinery and the nearby oil depot set up a blockade at the entrance of the refinery to protest against the French government pension reform in Saint-Nazaire, western France, 15 Oct. 2010

French riot police have forced through blockades of protesters to reopen fuel depots, even as French refinery workers cut a fuel pipeline to Paris and its airports in an escalating battle over pension reform.

Union workers shut down all of France's 12 oil refineries on a fourth day of protests Friday, intensifying fears of fuel shortages.

French Transport Secretary Dominique Bussereau sought to calm the situation, saying there would not be any supply problems. Oil companies have been allowed to tap into their reserves.

Police also moved to block student demonstrations outside the prime minister's office, as student unions joined the anti-government protests.

France's main truckers union has called on its members to back the growing labor action. Past trucker protests have blocked major roads and crippled France's infrastructure.

Workers' unions have called for nationwide demonstrations to continue Saturday and for another nationwide strike for Tuesday.

The French Senate will vote on the proposal to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 on Wednesday.

Public transportation ran smoother Friday as many workers returned to their jobs after taking to the streets on Tuesday. However, some rail workers continued to strike.

Despite repeated protests, French President Nicolas Sarkozy's government has refused to budge from a key reform plan, aimed at helping reduce the government debt.

Students and labor unions demand that Mr. Sarkozy abandon his pension reform, which they see as an attack on their social protections and an unfair burden on workers. There is also fear that delaying the retirement of older workers will worsen youth unemployment in France, which is more than 20 percent.

In the past, student protests have helped bring down major French government reforms.

The government also plans to increase the eligible age for a full pension from 65 to 67. France's retirement age is among the lowest in Europe.

Labor unions called an open-ended nationwide strike on Tuesday that caused major disruption to rail and air transport and shut down many schools, and brought more than one million people onto the streets.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.