Sarkozy sends in gendarmes to break up pickets

Friday saw a further hardening of positions in the standoff between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and striking workers calling for the re-examination of a proposed law to change the pension and retirement laws.

Mr. Sarkozy sent in gendarmes to break up pickets and ordered striking oil refinery staff back to work. But defiant workers said they would challenge the President's order in court.

Seeking to mute the disruptions, the government on Thursday invoked a clause in the Constitution that allows the Senate to cast a single vote on the legislation and the 200 remaining amendments. The opposition cried foul saying its right to debate the bill had been curtailed “in a most undemocratic manner”.

Unions called for another two days of giant demonstrations next week and vowed not to accept the law which is likely to be passed by the Senate or the Upper House. Unions said they were determined to move the courts. “There is a right to strike,” Charles Foulard, a CGT union organiser, said on BFM.

“This is scandalous; this is not what you do in a country with human rights.” The government justified its decision to use strong arm tactics to break up the strike saying workers had no right to prevent non-strikers from working or travelling. With the mid term break starting on Friday, most people were unsure whether or not to go on holiday using private transport.

“I don't know if I will find a functioning petrol pump. I do not wish to get stuck on the motorway with an empty fuel tank,” Virginie Cotta, who was to drive her children to their grandparents' home in southern France told The Hindu. “The problem is that there is not a ticket to be had on the few trains running, I do not have a baby sitter and the school is closed. I just might have to take leave and stay at home”, she said.

With about 20 per cent of the country's service stations remaining dry, holiday plans have been thrown out of gear. Refinery workers say they will set up pickets the moment the gendarmes leave.

“We will never accept this law,” said Jean-Claude Mailly, secretary-general of Force Ouvriere, on Friday on RMC radio. “Just because a law has been voted through doesn't mean we just say: ‘Oh, too bad.'”

Prime Minister Francois Fillon called for a meeting of fuel suppliers and distributors later on Friday in Paris, according to an e-mailed statement from his office.

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