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French police disperse protesting refinery workers

24 May 2016 13:04



French police have fired tear gas to disperse protesters blocking access to an oil refinery near Marseille to show their anger at controversial government-proposed labor reforms. 

Police on Tuesday dismantled the barricade set up by the angry workers of the Esso refinery in Fos-sur-Mer town to block the passage of oil tankers, Emmanuel Lepine of the CGT, one of France’s largest trade unions, said.

He said some 40 busloads of riot police participated in an operation to address the “unprecedented violence.”

In the past few days, oil workers in several refineries walked off the job, making hundreds of gas stations across the country struggle with fuel shortages.

People stand near a tear gas canister on the ground near the house of unions at the Esso oil refinery in Fos-sur-Mer, southeastern France, on May 24, 2016. ©AFP

Similar blockades have also hampered fuel supply and prompted consumer panic as long tailbacks of motorists formed in parts of France.

As part of a widespread protest against the imposed reforms, the CGT seeks to turn various protests and stoppages into full-scale rolling strikes at ports, oil refineries and railways.

The French government says the proposed labor reforms, which focus on maximum working hours, holidays as well as breaks, are aimed at boosting the country’s economy and curbing the high unemployment rate.

A police officer directs tankers towards the fuel depots in Fos-sur-Mer, southern France, on May 24, 2016. ©AFP

Protesters and workers’ unions, however, say the government wants to make it easier and less costly for employers to lay off workers.

The draft labor bill, which includes a loosening of the maximum 35-hour working week and a cap on redundancy payments, was recently forced through the lower house of parliament, but must be debated in the Senate.

France has been hit by a series of strikes in the past week, since President Francois Hollande said he would not withdraw the labor reforms.

Numerous rallies have been staged for over two months, some of them turned violent by police intervention.

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