The police operation to free up a fuel depot near the Donges oil refinery in western France followed similar measures at other depots this week to ease petrol shortages caused by picketers fighting planned labor law reforms. Concerns are mounting about potential disruption to the Euro 2016 football tournament, which begins in two weeks time. Some 741 of oil major Total's 2,200 filling stations were out of fuel compared to 784 a day earlier.

In the Seine Maritime region north of Paris, local government prefect Nicole Klein said the number of petrol stations without fuel had fallen significantly and lifted rationing orders. Nevertheless at the Fos-Lavera oil port in southern France, the country's biggest, about 38 oil tankers were queued up waiting to unload, up from 12 the previous day, a port authority spokeswoman said. Separately, the hardline CGT union said its members at the CIM oil terminal at the port of Le Havre, which handles 40 percent of French crude oil imports, had voted to extend their strike until Monday.

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 to boost employment. "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."

Wracked by fears about rising unemployment for years, French households are at long last turning more optimistic, keeping an economic recovery on track despite waves of strikes and protests over a contested labor reform. The official consumer confidence index published on Friday surged well past even the highest estimate to reach the highest level since October 2007, before the global financial crisis broke. Less than a year from a presidential election, the timing could not be better for Hollande with his Socialist government locked in a showdown with the hardline CGT union. Perhaps most inspiring for Hollande, who has said he would not run for re-election unless unemployment falls, the confidence survey saw joblessness concerns drop to the lowest level since June 2008. Households' view on their standard of living also returned to pre-crisis levels, suggesting that they may be beginning to buy into Hollande's much-mocked recent claim that "things are going better". "You'd really have to be a killjoy to say it's not getting better," economist Denis Ferrand at COE-Rexecode told Reuters.

In Paris for an annual review of the French economy, IMF France mission chief Christian Mumssen said this week that consumers' purchasing power was improving against the background of solid wage growth and virtually no inflation. What's more, companies are also turning cautiously more optimistic. Business activity recovered in May to levels not seen since the Nov. 13 attacks in around Paris in which 130 people died, according a closely watched monthly survey of purchasing managers.

Though strikes are hitting production in the energy sector, an output spike in April amid unseasonably frigid weather may help smooth out the average over the course of the quarter, impacting overall growth less than could be feared. "In the short-term, the impact of the strikes is probably very limited," COE-Rexecode's Ferrand said, noting that the much-more paralyzing strikes of 1995 had only shaved 0.2 percentage points off GDP. "At most we'll lose the extra 0.1 point we were supposed to gain from the higher number of business days this year." One of the most encouraging signs for the economy came on Wednesday when monthly jobless data showed the number of registered job-seekers had fallen in April for the second month in a row. "Monthly job-seeker figures are usually volatile but there is nonetheless a clear inflexion in the trend," the OFCE economics think tanks wrote in a note, pointing out that the decline in April was the first over 12 months since Lehman Brothers went bankrupt in September 2008.

The improving labor market should help consumer spending which already grew a hearty 1.2 percent in the first quarter, the strongest quarter since late 2004. Also playing in the economy's favor are the European football championships that France will be hosting from June 10 for a month with all of the extra spending by football fans from across Europe. And, as the IMF's Mumssen noted, "If France wins the cup then we would expect very strong consumption."

The unions' call came a day after tens of thousands of activists rallied in Paris as they have done for the past three months in an increasingly bitter standoff. Masked youths smashed windows and damaged cars in central Paris, prompting riot police to fire tear gas in the latest outburst of anger over the controversial legislation. Some 153,000 people took to the streets around the country on Thursday, officials said, though union leaders put the number at 300,000. French authorities said 62 demonstrators were taken into custody across the country, 32 of them in the capital, while 15 security officers were injured in clashes. One person was badly hurt in the unrest in Paris and had to be hospitalized, police said. Workers at nuclear power stations, which provide three-quarters of the country's electricity, have voted to down tools but authorities say the stoppages have not yet affected electricity supply. Although the fuel situation was improving, many motorists were still stuck in long queues at petrol stations around France, including the Paris region. Pierre Jata, a 40-year-old cable TV technician, was rushing to fill up at a petrol station on the edge of the capital on Thursday, minutes before supplies ran out. He laid the blame for the disruption on the government. "I'm with the unions. I'm with them but I'm still annoyed," he said. A man in his 50s had to be airlifted to hospital after a motorist rammed a roadblock outside a petrol refinery at Fos-sur-Mer on the Mediterranean coast. At the Tricastin nuclear plant in southern France, workers set fire to piles of tires on Thursday, sending clouds of black smoke into the sky.

Source: Daily Sabah