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France has reserves to cope with oil refinery blockades, PM says
[PARIS] Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Sunday France had enough fuel reserves to tackle shortages at hundreds of gas stations caused by workers blocking oil refineries and depots in protest against reforms to labour laws.
France has been hit by a wave of strikes over the past week aimed at pressuring the socialist government of President Francois Hollande to withdraw labour reforms that unions consider unfavourable to workers.
One out of five gas stations in the country were facing fuel shortages, transport minister Alain Vidalies told France 2 television. He also said earlier that more than 800 stations, out of a total of 11,500, were totally out of fuel.
Police lifted some blockades at fuel depots over the weekend and would continue to do so on Monday, Mr Valls said.
"We have the situation fully under control. I think that some of the refineries and depots that were blocked are unblocked or will be in the coming hours and days," Prime Minister Valls told reporters on Sunday during a visit to Israel.
"In any case, we have the reserves to deal with these blockades."
Protesters have blocked fuel depots as well as deliveries from at least half of France's eight refineries. On Friday, workers at three Total refineries voted to halt output by Tuesday.
The news of fuel shortages and blockades over the past days sent drivers rushing to petrol stations to fill their tanks as a precaution.
Several departments have imposed fuel restrictions per vehicle and some banned filling up extra fuel in jerry cans.
"The problem is that it is concentrated. For two-thirds of the country it is a reality that does not exist," Mr Vidalies said, adding that the main regions concerned were the West, Brittany, Normandy, the far North of France and the region around Paris.
A prolonged strike at refineries in France in 2010 led to a glut of crude in Europe, a spike in refined products prices due to low output from refineries and shortages at thousands of gas stations.
Unions said they were determined to continue their protests as long as the government did not withdraw its bill, something Mr Valls said in a joint interview on BFM TV and France 24 he did not intend to do.
"If the situation does not improve and if the government remains deaf to French people's claims, we are heading towards fuel shortage and a significant worsening of our economy," Franck Manchon, coordinator for the union Force Ouvriere at Total, told Reuters.