Fires burn at French oil depots as strikers are set to cause holiday chaos for Britons: Petrol stations running dry on eve of families’ half-term…

  • Trade unionists are attempting to bring France to a standstill over half-term
  • A quarter of its 12,000 petrol stations have run dry after weeks of protests
  • Government dipped into emergency petrol stocks for first time in six years
  • Thousands of British families today making final preparations for holidays

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Families heading to France for half-term holidays face travel chaos as militant trade unionists seek to bring the country to a standstill. France has been gripped by weeks of violent protest and a quarter of its 12,000 petrol stations have run dry after workers protesting against new labour laws closed seven of its eight oil refineries. Riot squads have used tear gas and water cannon to lift the blockades, but the government has dipped into emergency petrol stocks for the first time in six years.

Families heading to France for half-term holidays face travel chaos as militant trade unionists seek to bring the country to a standstill

A demonstrator raises his fist as French police dislodge protesters blocking a fuel depot in Douchy-les-Mines, northern France, early May 25 2016

Power supplies have also been threatened by militants occupying an electricity control station in Colayrac in the south-west. Against this backdrop, thousands of British families will today be making final preparations for trips to France during next week s half-term holiday, alarmed by reports of the chaos that has already left some UK tourists stranded. The dispute has grown increasingly bitter, with demonstrators beating up police officers and setting fire to patrol cars.

More trouble is expected in major cities including Paris today when mass street demonstrations against new powers to sack workers take place. And the transport chaos is likely to worsen next week when rolling strikes hit the main railway provider SNCF and workers on the Paris metro are due to walk out. Estimates suggested yesterday that four in ten petrol stations around Paris are struggling to stay open. Panicked drivers were backed up in long traffic jams outside the few petrol stations that still had supplies of fuel and there were reports of fights on forecourts. The dispute has grown increasingly bitter, with demonstrators beating up police officers and setting fire to patrol cars

More trouble is expected in major cities including Paris today when mass street demonstrations against new powers to sack workers take place

Trade unionists erect a burning barricade to block the entrance of a refinery before being dislodged by French police, in Douchy-les-Mines, northern France

PROTESTS SPARKED BY NEW EMPLOYMENT LAWS IN FRANCE

The industrial action causing fuel pumps to run dry is part of a mass protest against new employment laws.

President Francois Hollande s government believes the reforms will cut unemployment by making it easier for bosses to hire and fire. But workers, led by the Left-wing CGT trade union, say they are an attack on cherished rights and job security. The unions are particularly angry because the new laws were forced through parliament without a vote, as it was feared the far Left of the party would not allow them.

A million people signed a petition against the reforms in February, then in March, hundreds of thousands joined nightly rallies in a movement dubbed Nuit Debout, or Up All Night. It is feared the industrial action will still be going on when the Euro 2016 championships start on June 10. British drivers in France are among those left stranded in the chaos. AA president Edmund King said: Breakdown services in Europe have been taking calls from UK drivers who have run out of fuel. We are recovering vehicles stuck at the side of the road to places of safety until fuel supplies are resumed.

Unions are angry at attempts by the French government to reform labour laws, making it easier for employers to hire and fire staff. The leftist CGT union is leading opposition to the reforms, while President Francois Hollande s socialist government has said it is not willing to negotiate . The pressure continues to build as strikes spread from the refineries to the railways, nuclear plants and ports, where oil imports come into the country.

Yesterday the government sent in riot officers to forcibly remove around 80 activists preventing access to the Douchy-les-Mines fuel depot near Valenciennes in northern France. Police moved in at 5am and used water cannon to clear away the strikers before destroying barricades. A total of 1,500 French workers are currently being held by police.

Unions are angry at attempts by the French government to reform labour laws, making it easier for employers to hire and fire staff

Transport Secretary Alain Vidalies confirmed that three days worth of stored petrol had already been used to stock service stations rapidly running dry

There was a similar intervention at Fos-sur-mer on the Mediterranean coast on Tuesday, resulting in fighting between strikers and the police. It is just two weeks until the European football championships, meaning pressure is growing on the government to find a solution. Transport Secretary Alain Vidalies confirmed that three days worth of stored petrol had already been used to stock service stations rapidly running dry.

In addition to the SNCF and Metro strikes, civil aviation union members are also due to walk out next week.

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