As blockages of oil refineries and petroleum depots, airports and motorways continued, with strikers in France vowing not to cave in to government pressure, President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would show “no weakness”.

Mr. Sarkozy has ordered police and gendarmes to evacuate blocked petrol depots to ensure that fuel shortages are brought to an end.

Speaking at a meeting with rural officials south-west of Paris, Mr. Sarkozy warned that demonstrators would, under no circumstances, “have the last word”. Strikers and demonstrators did not have the right “to take people hostage” and to hold the country to ransom, he said. By taking such a tough stand Mr. Sarkozy is staking his all on the success of his reform of the pension system. But the movement does not, contrary to government claims, appear to be fizzling out.

Referring to rowdies who infiltrated demonstrations in Lyon to indulge in wanton violence and destruction, Mr. Sarkozy said: “Troublemakers will not have the last word in a democracy. That is just not acceptable. They will be stopped, tracked down and punished.”

Unions will meet later on Thursday afternoon to decide whether to call another day of national strikes next week to stop the movement petering out over the school holidays which begin on Friday. Moderate unions are doubtful about continuing the protests, with the Senate due to vote in favour of the contested pensions bill by Friday night. But more hardline unions favour calling for another nationwide day of stoppages and street demonstrations, possibly next Tuesday or Thursday.

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