Hundreds of riot police lift Marseille port blockade

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 21, 2011 9:43 AM

MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) - Hundreds of riot police stormed the port of Marseille in southern France on Thursday to lift a two-day blockade by Corsican ferry operators that had paralyzed sea access to loading docks.

Ferry operators are worried about their jobs after a fall in business between Corsica and the French mainland, and they blocked two waterways leading to the commercial port with rescue tug boats Tuesday.

Police said they moved in early to prevent strikers from setting up a road block. Boats from the Gendarmerie towed away the rescue boats blocking the loading docks of France's largest port.

Fourteen people were arrested but no clashes were reported in the operation, which involved 700 CRS riot police officers, the Bouches du Rhone prefecture said in a statement.

The CGT union called their actions disproportionate. "The response by the army confirms a view of labor relations that leads to a dead end," the CGT union said in a statement, referring to the Gendarmerie, a sub-section of the French military.

Marseille underlined its reputation as a hotbed of hard-line unionism late last year when dockers blockaded Fos-Lavera, France's largest port for oil shipments, leading to weeks of shortages at fuel stations across the country.

The two-day blockade did not hit fuel shipments, but it showed that labor problems are not improving as the French port keeps losing business to Rotterdam and other ports.

(Reporting by Jean-Francois Rosnoblet; writing by Nick Vinocur; editing by Robert Woodward)