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French motorists told to calm down over petrol fears

Reuters

The French government is urging motorists not to panic and overrun petrol stations following the shutdown of refineries due to a strike against pensions reform. Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau is insisting that petrol stocks will not run out.

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"There will be no shortage of petrol at the pump," Bussereau told LCI television. "We have as much as we need for at least a month.

"Above all I say to motorists: do not run to fill up your tank or your petrol supplies, you do not need to."

When strikes shut down 70 per cent of France's refining capacity on Wednesday, there were reports of buying panic and long queues at filling stations following rumours of local shortages.

On Wednesday eight of France's 12 refineries were shutting down operations, which is a process that can take 48 hours to complete.

Another three refineries saw their output severely disrupted by strike action. Officials insist the depots are full, but at least one was also disrupted on Thursday.

The chairman of the oil industry association, Jean-Louis Schilansky, said on Wednesday that France's fuel depots had enough stocks but warned that "if the situation continues, we'll have to take a serious look at the problem of strategic stocks."

Dozens of protestors used vehicles to block a depot in Bassens, north of Bordeaux, police and the CGT union said.

Unions were due to meet on Thursday afternoon to discuss their next move.

The government has refused to budge on the reform, key parts of which have already been definitively passed by the Senate.

In other disruptions on Thursday, state rail company SNCF said national services were delayed for the third day in a row, with four in 10 high-speed trains running from Paris.

Unions are pledging more protests on Saturday, while the Senate debate on the law has been prolonged until 20 October.

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