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France still facing fuel crisis amid anti-Paris rallies: Transport minister

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This picture taken on May 27, 2016 in Ajaccio, shows a closed fuel pump at a gas station in shortage on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica. ©AFP

France says the fuel crisis caused by the recent wave of oil workers’ strikes is still not over as angry demonstrations continue to sweep through the country in protest at the government-proposed labor reforms.

“In some regions the situation is almost back to normal. In other regions we remain attentive, but we cannot say that the crisis is over,” Transport Minister Alain Vidalies said on Saturday following a meeting with Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

On Friday, the Transport Ministry announced that 15 fuel depots out of about 100 across the country had been opened by police.

“Blockades have been removed at all the depots, except for the depot at Gargenville (in the Paris area), which is on strike,” the ministry’s spokesperson said.

It added that about 20 percent of gas stations nationwide were still facing fuel shortages.

Following a week of strikes and blockades, six of the eight oil refineries in France were still either closed or operating at reduced capacity, forcing the government to start using its strategic oil reserves.

French riot policemen stand guard during the evacuation of workers on strike blocking the access to an oil depot near the Total refinery of Donges, France, on May 27, 2016. ©AFP

At its best, the country’s fuel reserves can afford fuel for four months; and a gloomy picture for consumers is looming on the horizon if strikes linger on.

The strikes and the blockading of depots by workers come in opposition to a government-proposed labor reform plan which includes a loosening of the maximum 35-hour working week and a cap on redundancy payments.

The bill was recently forced through the lower house of the French parliament, but must still be debated in the Senate, the upper house of the bicameral legislature.

President Francois Hollande’s socialist government says the reforms are aimed at boosting the country’s economy and curbing the high unemployment rate.

Protesters and workers’ unions, disagree with the reforms saying the government wants to make it easier and less costly for employers to lay off employees.

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