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French police bust oil depot pickets as strikes set to spread

A mass picket at Donges, in Brittany, 25 May 2016 Reuters/Stephane Mahe

France has been using emergency oil stocks for the last two days because of the continuing strikes and protests by refinery workers and other trade unionists against the government's labour reform. Police broke up two mass pickets early Wednesday morning, railworkers started a two-day strike and nuclear power station workers voted to down tools for a day on Thursday.

The oil industry organisation Ufip said on Wednesday that it had been using a "small amount" of its emergency stocks for the last two days, with the government's agreement, because of strikes and pickets at refineries and depots.

As queues formed at some petrol stations, Transport Minister Alain Vidalies issued a decree allowing allowing truck drivers transporting petrol to drive for two hours more than the usual legal limit a day.

Dockers to strike

The CGT union is tightening the squeeze on fuel supplies with dockers at Marseilles and le Havre voting to strike and a one-day national strike on Thursday extended for an extra day in protest at the use of police to break up picket lines.

A stoppage at Le Havre, which handles 40 percent of France's oil imports, would mean fuel at France's airports would run out within five or six days, according to Le Havre Mayor Edouard Philippe.

All of France's eight oil refineries have been affected by the strike but pickets were cleared from in front of two oil depots, one in the north-east, the other in the north-west, on Wednesday morning.

Disruption, including pickets, strikes and the reduction of the electrity supply, is to be organised on Thursday at France's nuclear power stations, which provide 75 percent of the country's power.

Eighth day of action on Thursday

Thursday will see strikes and demonstrations against the labour reform across France, including in the construction industry over wages and conditions, as well as the labour reform.

Some 15 percent of flights are expected to be cancelled Thursday because of a strike at the air-traffic authority, while another strike has been called for 3-5 June.

A strike has been called at Amazon warehouses over wages and the labour law.

The CGT has called an unlimited strike on Paris regional transport, demanding wage negotiations and the scrapping of the labour law, from 2 June.

Unions divided as further action planned

Unions plan another day of action on 14 June with a national demonstration in Paris.

"As long as the government refuses discussion there is a risk of the movement spreading," CGT leader Philippe Martinez told France Inter radio on Wednesday.

But Laurent Berger, the leader of the CFDT union which accepted a modified version of the bill, said that scrapping it would be "unacceptable".

Former economy minister Arnard Montebourg, who resigned from the government because he felt it was moving too far the right, on Wednesday called for "dialogue" or a referendum on the bill, accusing the government of a "permanent policy of the use of force".