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Oil Refinery Strikes Spark Gas Shortages In France

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

French drivers waited in long lines for gas today. A third of filling stations are out entirely, and the government has had to tap into the country's fuel reserves. What is now a national crisis began as a protest movement against President Francois Hollande's revision of the labor code. Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking French).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: All week, French news has shown scenes of burning tires and riot police routing members of the hardline CGT union who've been blocking the country's oil refineries and fuel depots. The CGT says it won't stop until the government withdrawals the labor bill. Prime Minister Valls says his government will never cede to blackmail.

MANUEL VALLS: (Through interpreter) This frontal assault to take consumers and our economy hostage is outrageous, and it's old. This has nothing to do with democracy. We will never withdraw this bill.

BEARDSLEY: By loosening up France's notoriously rigid labor market, Hollande was hoping to bring down the country's chronically high unemployment before next year's presidential election. But the measure has angered the left of his party, and his government has been accused of incompetence by conservatives.

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FRANCOIS HOLLANDE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Some unions have signed on to the bill, but the CGT says allowing companies to more easily lay off workers will make their lives more precarious and erode years of labor progress. CGT truckers, rail workers and dockers have joined the fray, snarling roads and paralyzing much of the country. And CGT workers at one of the country's nuclear plants plan to walk out tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR ENGINE HUMMING)

BEARDSLEY: At this gas station in Paris, drivers are only allowed half a tank of fuel. Many say the unions are going too far, but they don't support the labor reform, either. Christophe Coustille says the socialist government should have known how to introduce change in France.

CHRISTOPHE COUSTILLE: I think that they could've had the right arguments to handle the union situation and to handle the gradual reform and have done exactly the contrary.

BEARDSLEY: Prime Minister Valls says the minority is taking France hostage. The CGT says it has the support of a majority of the French. The coming days will prove who's right. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.