20/10/2010 - Paris - Motorways and airports were blockaded Wednesday and nearly a third of France's petrol stations were dry as protests against President Nicolas Sarkozy's pension reforms threatened to cripple the country.
Demonstrators blocked access to the airports at Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nantes and Clermont-Ferrand while lorry drivers obstructed traffic on more than a dozen motorways throughout the country, French media reported.
At the same time, more than 4,000 petrol stations, out of a total of 12,500, had run dry because of a strike by oil refinery workers and barricades set up at numerous oil depots.
The actions came a day after some 3.5 million people, according to union figures, demonstrated against the pension reform. The interior ministry put the number of protesters at 1.1 million.
Sarkozy remained defiant in face of the protests, saying in a statement Wednesday that he had ordered the unblocking of every oil depot in the country.
'The disorder provoked by the blockades have produced numerous injustices,' the president said. 'If they do not end rapidly, these perturbations which aim to paralyse the country could have consequences for employment by harming the normal conduct of economic activity.'
Sarkozy also said he would persist in pressing the reform 'to its conclusion.'
However, a poll published Wednesday in the daily Les Echos suggested that a majority of the French supported a continuation of the protests. In the survey, 59 per cent of the respondents said they wanted unions to pursue the protests ands strikes even after the reform becomes law.
The measure, which gradually raises the retirement age from 60 to 62 by the year 2018, has already passed the National Assembly and is scheduled to be voted on in the Senate by Sunday, at the latest.
Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said Wednesday at a press conference in Paris that the government would crack down on violent demonstrators who had clashed with police during street protests, primarily by school students.
In one week, 1,423 people - half of them under 18 - had been arrested after protests turned violent in several cities, and 62 police officers were injured in the skirmishes, the interior minister said.