Friday, October 22, 2010

Protests and Riots Continue As French Protest Pension Changes; UPDATE: Senate Approves Pension Reform

Protests continue across France as a result of ongoing protests and riots against the French government's plans to adjust the retirement age for pensioners. It's caused widespread fuel shortages as protesters have blocked fuel shipments from refineries around the country. Efforts to stop the blockades have been mixed as problems continue in some parts of the country. The country has even been forced to import electricity from neighboring countries as workers at nuclear power plants have been hit with a rolling strike cutting production.
France was forced to import electricity as unions announced that strikes against an increase to the retirement age would spread over the next two weeks.

The unions said production had been cut at four nuclear power plants because of a 10-day rolling strike, while at least 12 of France's 58 reactors are closed for maintenance. Work has stopped at two of three liquefied natural gas terminals.
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With all of France's oil refineries out of action and a quarter of its petrol stations without fuel, police took action yesterday.

They took control of the entrance to the Grandpuits oil refinery, scuffling with pickets and dealing with a barricade of burning tyres.

The officers advanced without batons or tear-gas, clearing an 80-strong ''citizens' cordon'' of strikers and local supporters cordon with bare hands, although there were scuffles as the officers cleared the entrance.

France's Environment and Transport Minister, Jean-Louis Borloo, said in a radio interview the police operation had not been designed to restart refining at Grandpuits, but to gain access to fuel already stocked there.
The retirement age is to be raised to 62 from 60. This has sparked protests and riots, despite the need to keep the pension fund solvent.

Despite the protests, riots, and fuel and energy distribution disruptions, the French Senate has passed the pension reform bill, which will now head to a conference reconcile the versions passed by the National Assembly and the Senate before it can be signed by President Sarkozy into law.
On Monday, a joint committee of senators and members of the National Assembly will work to reconcile the two versions of the measure, and the final package could be ready for President Nicolas Sarkozy to sign later in the week.

Protesters have scuffled with police and blockaded oil refineries and terminals for days as tensions flared over the proposal to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 -- a measure that the government says is necessary to save money.

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde has said the country cannot continue to pay its debts -- to retirees and others -- by borrowing at current levels. The government's announced goal is to cut the deficit from 8 percent to 6 percent of gross domestic product by next year, an ambitious goal.

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