French president warns protesters against economic strangulation

French riot police have removed picketers and barricades blocking access to a large fuel distribution depot as President Francois Hollande warned anti-reform protesters that he would not let them strangle the economy.

The police operation to free up a fuel depot near the Donges oil refinery in western France followed similar swoops at other depots this week to ease petrol shortages caused by picketers fighting planned labor law reforms.

Speaking in Japan after a summit with other world leaders, Hollande said France’s economy was starting to pick up and should not be derailed by opponents of a reform designed to make hiring and firing easier.

“I will stay the course because this is a good reform and we must go all the way to adoption,” the Socialist leader said. “This is not the time to put the French economy in difficulty.”

Hollande’s appeal was directed above all at the hardline CGT labor union, which is leading street protests, public transport strikes and fuel supply pickets that also risk disrupting the France-hosted European soccer tournament next month.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets over the past three months for protests marred by violence on the fringes in which hundreds of police have been hurt and more than 1,300 people arrested.

Mr Hollande said things are starting to get better but that the labor reform is vital to tackle joblessness, which has dipped for two months in a row but remains close to a rate of 10 percent.

French protesters attacked a police station and smashed bank windows on Thursday at rallies against the reform, while the CGT members sought to choke off fuel supplies.

According to the Interior Ministry Seventy-seven people were arrested during nationwide street demonstrations on Thursday in which more than 150,000 marched.

AFP/Hauwa M.