- Associated Press - Sunday, October 17, 2010

PARIS (AP) — France’s transport minister insisted Sunday there was plenty of fuel for planes at Paris‘ Charles de Gaulle Airport, despite strikes that forced aviation authorities to order some jets to arrive with enough fuel to get back home.

Motorists, however, still ran into plenty of problems Sunday filling up their tanks.

Strikes and blockades at a dozen French refineries and numerous oil depots in the past week are part of widespread protests against President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to raise the retirement age to 62.

The strikes have hobbled trains, buses, airports, schools, hospitals, government offices and other facilities sporadically for weeks. But unions’ decision to target oil refineries and fuel depots has proved the most worrisome tactic, with the potential to hurt the airline and tourism industries — and ultimately, France’s image on the world stage.

With a new round of nationwide protests set for Tuesday, a day before the Senate votes on the hotly contested retirement reform, the government worked to reassure citizens that gas was available and send the message it will not back down.

Tuesday’s demonstrations will be the sixth in a month and follow nationwide protests on Saturday.

Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau told Europe-1 radio Sunday there are “no worries” over fuel supplies at Paris‘ main airport — a day after civil aviation authorities said aircraft making short- and medium-haul flights to Charles de Gaulle, a key European hub, must come with enough fuel to get back home.

Strikes earlier shut down a fuel pipeline, but the airport is now “perfectly fed” after fuel began flowing again this weekend, he said.

“There are no worries at Roissy (Charles de Gaulle) and even less at Orly,” the minister said, referring to the smaller airport south of Paris that reportedly has fuel stocks for up to 17 days.

Mr. Bussereau conceded that fuel supplies were tighter at airports in the Riviera city of Nice and the western city of Nantes, but said that will be quickly remedied.

The minister also insisted that no gas stations are dry, even if some 200 are “bothered” because of a run by scared motorists filling up their tanks. Between Monday and Thursday, demand for gasoline soared 50 percent, he said, claiming that stations that had no gas simply were reserving what they have for special customers.

Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said Saturday that some 230 of the country’s 13,000 gas stations were out of fuel but the country itself had “weeks of reserve.” She asked residents not to panic.

Some motorists clearly weren’t heeding that advice.

“We ran out of gas yesterday already. There’s nothing left,” a worker at a BP station, Alpha Sysavane, told Associated Press Television News on Sunday. “All we’ve got left are a few liters of diesel fuel.”

One motorist from a village near Fontainbleu said she drove 30 miles all the way to Paris in order to buy fuel.

“It’s better to buy, because at home, the filling stations are closed. It’s a bit of a shock for us,” said Emilia Scoubel, a 30-year-old office worker.

The Lyon newspaper Le Progres headlined “Stations Running Dry in the Rhone,” the region where that southeastern city is located.

Countries across Europe are cutting spending and raising taxes to bring down record deficits and debts from the worst recession in 70 years. Labor leaders, students and civil servants are fighting back.

French truckers are expected to join protests shortly, but Mr. Bussereau was not concerned.

“We don’t fear the truckers,” he said.

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