French Fuel Refinery Reopened By Force

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has won a strategic battle as protests over pension reforms show no sign of ending.

(ITN)

A truck driver walks past a line of lorries as he waits outside a fuel depot of the society SFDM near the oil refinery of Donges, near Nantes, October 22, 2010. French police cleared access to the main refinery supplying fuel to Paris early on Friday as unions hardened their stance ahead of a final vote on French government's pension reform expected later in the day.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has won a strategic battle as protests over pension reforms show no sign of ending.

Riot police have forced open a fuel refinery at Grandpuits, east of Paris. It is the closest source of gasoline supplies to the capital.

However scuffles broke out between officers and workers who had linked arms and refused to move.

The operation came as the French Senate is about to vote on a bill at the heart of the union's anger, after the government short-circuited a protracted debate.

French police moved to unblock the entrance of the Grandpuits refinery southeast of Paris on Friday.

The idea of raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 has prompted numerous street protests, with tension spilling over into violence and vandalism after months of strikes and demonstrations.

The Senate is near-certain to approve the measure before the weekend.

Sarkozy ordered regional authorities to intervene and force open depots, accusing the strikers of holding ordinary people and the French economy "hostage."

He said overhauling the pension system is vital to ensuring that future generations receive any pensions at all.

It is a choice many European governments are facing as populations live longer and government debts soar.

 However, French unions say retirement at 60 is a hard-earned right, and that the working class is unfairly punished by the pension reform.

They fear this reform will herald the end of an entire network of welfare benefits that make France an enviable place to work and live.