Pension strikes continue in France as fears of fuel shortage rise
PARIS - Scattered fuel shortages rattled drivers, and officials at France's main airport warned that some flights must arrive with enough fuel to get back home as hundreds of thousands of people marched Saturday for the fifth time in a month to protest President Nicolas Sarkozy's plan to raise the retirement age to 62.
Frequent strikes in the past few weeks have hobbled French trains and airports, closed schools and docks, and left garbage piling up in the southern port of Marseille.
And now the airline industry is getting worried, after all of France's 12 fuel-producing refineries went on strike, forcing police to be called in Friday to reopen three main depots. The Civil Aviation Authority sent out an advisory Friday night to airlines requiring short- and medium-haul flights to Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport - one of Europe's key hubs - to arrive with enough fuel to get home, spokesman Eric Heraud said.
"They must come with a maximum capacity in their fuel tanks," he said. "Obviously, these instructions apply only to short- and medium-haul flights" of less than four or five hours because transatlantic flights cannot "double carry" fuel.
As fearful drivers headed to the pumps, Finance Minister Christine Lagarde urged the nation not to panic.
"There is no risk of shortages," she told BFM-TV on Saturday, noting that only 230 of the country's 13,000 gas stations were out of fuel. "There are weeks of reserve."
The Ecology Ministry, however, said that fuel stocks at Charles de Gaulle were good only until Tuesday and that the fuel pipeline to the airport was working only intermittently.
"I don't say we can't guarantee beyond Tuesday . . . we will find other solutions," a ministry spokesman said.
Heraud, of the Civil Aviation Authority, said the pipeline that supplies Charles de Gaulle and the smaller Paris-Orly Airport, south of the city, began feeding fuel from the Atlantic port city of Le Havre again Saturday, assuring enough fuel at the main airport until Wednesday.
"That leaves time for parallel supply means," notably by truck, he said. Orly airport has 17 days' worth of available fuel, Heraud said.
A sign Saturday at a gas station in Feyzin, near the eastern city of Lyon, announced a fuel shortage at all pumps, frustrating motorists there and elsewhere.
"When the government says there will be no shortage, it means there will be a shortage," said Bernard Martin, a 60-year-old retiree who found no fuel at a Carrefour gas station in Ecully, near Lyon. "Since this morning, there is no more diesel fuel."