France acts on fuel shortages as protests continue

Paris, Oct 19 (DPA) The French government began acting to replenish empty petrol stations Tuesday as another day of nationwide strikes and protests against President Nicolas Sarkozy’s pension reform got under way.

A meeting is to be held at the office of Prime Minister Francois Fillon in the afternoon to draw up measures to deal with growing fuel shortfalls, as a strike by workers at France’s 12 oil refineries went into a seventh day.

Fillon told lawmakers that one-third of French territory has been affected by the shortages, and that it would take four or five days to normalise the situation.

The protests were marred by renewed violence Tuesday as secondary-school students again took part in the movement.

A middle school in the city of Le Mans burned down overnight following a student protest during which the gates to the school were blocked. Police suspect arson, France Info radio reported.

There were clashes between police and protesting students in several cities, such as Nanterre and Lyon, with projectiles hurled at security agents and cars overturned or set on fire.

Several police officers and a news photographer were injured in the confrontations. In addition, a 15-year-old girl was taken to hospital in Paris after being injured when a motor scooter was set on fire and exploded.

The interior ministry said more than 1,150 protesters were arrested in the last week following violent incidents.

In the coastal resort of Deauville, where he met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Sarkozy said he would take measures ‘to guarantee order’.

A strike of railway workers also went into its seventh day Tuesday. The state-run railway network SNCF said about one-half of all scheduled trains were not operating.

The French civil aviation authority DGAC said that 50 percent of all flights originating at Paris’s Orly Airport were scrubbed Tuesday, with 30 percent cancellations at other French airports.

More than one million people were expected to take part in street protests Tuesday against the pension reform, which will gradually raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 by the year 2018.

It has been approved in the National Assembly and is set to be voted on in the Senate later this week.

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