The French government Oct. 20 ordered security forces to break up blockades at fuel depots to restore supplies to a third of the nation's gas stations, which have run dry after a week of rolling strikes against planned pension reform.
Riot police lifted blockades at three depots in western France, including one in the port city of La Rochelle, and are preparing to remove blockades across the rest of the country which threaten to snap the nation's freight transport system.
Strikers shut down three natural gas import terminals Wednesday and blocked access to several regional airports including Nantes in the northwest, Toulouse in the south and Clermont-Ferrand in central France.
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Traffic was disrupted at the two Paris airports, Roissy Charles de Gaulle and Orly, but there are no reports of cargo shipments being delayed or airlines facing fuel shortages due to stoppages at the country's 12 oil refineries.
A strike at the port of Marseille's Fos-Lavera oil terminal entered its 24th day with no sign of a breakthrough in an unrelated dispute over privatization of stevedoring and job privileges.
Sixty nine ships, mostly tankers and oil product carriers, are lying at anchor waiting to berth at France's largest port.
French ports are struggling to clear a backlog of cargo built up during two 24-hour stoppages in the past two weeks over pension reform and 48-hour strikes over three successive weekends related to the government's port reforms.
SNCF, France's state-owned railway, reported dwindling support for strike action after nine days of stoppages that have reduced freight transport to just 5 percent of normal traffic.
The company said at least half its trains will run Wednesday with around two thirds of its high-speed TGV services operating on schedule.
President Sarkozy and the center-right government are refusing to back down over a plan to raise the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62 amid signs the strikes, especially in the transport sector, appear to be losing traction.
"To get back to a normal situation we need four to five days," Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau said after a cabinet meeting Wednesday morning.
Union leaders are weighing their next moves ahead of the French Senate's final vote on the government's pension plans later this week. The National Assembly, the lower house, has already approved the measures.
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