WRAPUP 5-Police clear refinery, French unions defiant

* Police clear access to refinery supplying Paris

* Unions call two further days of strike action

* Pension reform bill due for final Senate vote on Friday

(Adds bond analyst quote)

By Nick Vinocur and John Irish

PARIS, Oct 22 (BestGrowthStock) – French riot police rushed picket
lines to break a blockade of the main fuel refinery supplying
Paris on Friday as unions hardened their stance before a vote on
President Nicolas Sarkozy’s pension reform due later in the day.

Signalling their determination to keep fighting even after a
bill raising the retirement age becomes law, the country’s six
main unions have called for two more days of action on Oct. 28
and Nov. 6 against the unpopular reform.

“The protests are not stopping, we just have different views
on how to proceed,” Jean-Claude Mailly, head of the more radical
Force Ouvriere union told RMC radio. “We still think that
demonstrating is not enough … we have to ramp it up … we
need a strong day of public and private sector strikes.”

The government appeared equally determined.

Police in riot gear wielding shields rushed a blockade and
cleared pickets and burning tyres at dawn at Total’s (TOTF.PA: )
Grandpuits oil refinery, which supplies fuel for the Paris area.
Scuffles broke out at the refinery southeast of the capital and
one person was carried away on a stretcher after being trampled.

Analysts did not expect the strikes to have any lasting
impact on sentiment towards French debt. France comfortably sold
short-term paper on Thursday though it paid a premium from
previous issues on what analysts said may be fleeting concerns
over ability to enforce austerity measures. [nLDE69K1M4]

“The crisis to date has had next-to-no impact on bond
spreads in France,” said Julian Jessop, chief international
economist at Capital Economics.

“I think there’s a perception in the markets that this is
just the French being French and the vote will be approved.”

The centre-right government resorted to a special guillotine
procedure to speed the reform bill’s passage through the Senate,
with a vote now due on Friday evening as pressure builds on
Sarkozy to end the long-running impasse with the unions ahead of
half-term holidays beginning this weekend.

The president’s popularity ratings are near an all-time low
18 months before a presidential election in which he is widely
expected to seek a second term.

In addition to transport disruption, Sarkozy is battling
11-day-old strikes at the country’s 12 refineries and fuel depot
blockades that Energy Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said forced the
closure of one in five petrol stations.

Jean-Louis Schilansky head of oil sector lobby UFIP told
reporters after a meeting Prime Minister Francois Fillon there
was enough fuel to last for several weeks or months by
increasing imports and pooling reserves.

For take-a-look on French pension protests, click on


For interactive map of European strikes, click on


For charts on retirement ages across Europe, click on


For an interactive “misery index” for the euro zone, click on


For map showing refineries supplied from Fos-Lavera,



“We had the “rafles” (roundups) during Petain’s time: now in
the era of Sarkozy we have the roundup of our social and union
rights,” said Charles Foulard, leader of the oil sector workers
at the communist-led CGT union. “Sarkozy has declared war.”

His choice of the term associated with the mass arrests of
Jews in Nazi-occupied France drew immediate condemnation.

Sarkozy says the reform is the only way to limit ballooning
pension shortfalls and protect the coveted “AAA” credit rating
that allows France to borrow at favourable interest rates.

“If the French are not careful, they will soon join the
PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain) as the
troubled economies of Europe,” said professor Anthony Sabino, at
St. John’s University in New York.

The government is aiming to cut the deficit to 6.0 percent
of gross domestic product next year based on an economic growth
forecast of 2 percent in the first phase of a plan to trim the
budget gap to the EU’s 3.0 percent limit by 2013.


Sarkozy wants the bill — which would raise the minimum age
of retirement to 62 from 60 and the maximum age for a full
pension to 67 from 65 — passed quickly in the hope that
protests will fade once it has become law.

But even after police cleared access to all the main fuel
depots, striking workers seemed determined to maintain their
grip on vital sectors of the economy with blockades.

If the reform becomes law, France would still have one of
the lowest minimum retirement ages in Europe. The broader
measures Sarkozy is pushing through to cut the deficit are far
milder than in countries such as Britain, which unveiled 80
billion pounds ($126.3 billion) in spending cuts this week.

Yet a poll for Canal Plus television broadcast on Friday
showed an increase in support for the strikes from six days ago
with 70 percent of French backing the industrial action. Polls
show most people are against Sarkozy’s pension bill.

Unions are betting that involving high school and university
students — thousands of whom demonstrated on Thursday — and
private sector workers could tip the scales and force the
government to back down, as it did 15 years ago in the face of
mass protests and transport strikes against pension reform.

But the number of young protesters remains far smaller than
in 1995 or 2006 and the transport disruption less widespread.

Flare-ups of violence by masked youths in the central city
of Lyon and in the Paris suburb of Nanterre have also blemished
the peaceful and disciplined image of the protest movement.

Unions said marches this week drew some 3.5 million people,
but the government put the number at just over a million.

“What we’re doing has been done everywhere else in the
world,” said Labour Minister Eric Woerth. “The protests,
worries, discontent have to stop when the law is passed.”

Once approved by the Senate a commission with the National
Assembly should meet on Oct. 25 to bring together both versions
of the text, the upper house’s president Gerard Larcher said.
(Additional reporting by Elisabeth Pineau and Henri-Pierre
Andre; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

WRAPUP 5-Police clear refinery, French unions defiant