Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fisherman clash with police

Police guard France's agricultural ministry against protesting fishermen 21/05/08
French police guarded the ministry from angry fishermen

French fishermen have clashed with police in Paris as they stepped up protests over rising fuel costs.

Protesters threw flares and police fired tear gas outside the agriculture ministry, where Minister Michel Barnier was meeting fishing unions.

Ferry traffic with the UK has also ground to a halt, with fishing fleets blockading several French ports.

Meanwhile, a major strike against President Nicolas Sarkozy's pension reforms is set to begin.

Workers are due to walk out for 36 hours, starting on Wednesday evening, to protest against government plans to make people work 41 years, rather then the current 40, before being able to draw a full pension.

Price cap

The fishermen's blockade began more than a week ago, and was originally confined to a few ports like La Rochelle on the west coast.

But it spread until, on Wednesday, Calais, Boulogne and Dunkirk on the north coast, all serving cross-Channel ferry services to Britain, were isolated by a ring of fishing boats.

The fishermen say rapidly rising prices for diesel threaten them with bankruptcy. They are demanding a greater subsidy from the government, in effect putting a cap on prices.

In January the government approved an aid package for fishermen worth 310m euros (£248m) over three years.

Mr Barnier is seeking approval from the EU commission to give state aid to the sector.

But fishermen say that agreement is redundant, since fuel has become 30% more expensive since the start of the year.

As the minister met union representatives in Paris on Wednesday, as many as 200 fishermen gathered outside.

Dozens of flares were thrown, injuring up to four policemen, according to reports.

Riot police surrounded the building and responded with tear gas.

Sarkozy confident

The fishermen's protest came as the government is facing industrial action from various sectors.

French teachers protest against proposed cuts in Paris
French teachers say cuts in numbers affect quality

Port workers plan a strike for Thursday against privatisation - which is likely to exacerbate the problems caused by the fishing blockade.

Thursday will also see major action by rail, postal, utility and other public sector workers across France.

They are protesting against plans to extend the retirement age.

It follows a teachers' strike against job cuts last week.

Unions are hoping that a head of steam is building up against Mr Sarkozy's economic reform plans, says BBC correspondent Hugh Schofield in Paris.

But the president has so far made the calculation that most people accept the changes that he has promised, and there is no sign of him backing down, says our correspondent.

--From the BBC

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hole torn in £330m Cunard liner

The whole ripped into the stern of the Queen Victoria
Repairs are due to be carried out during the night.
A hole has been ripped into the stern of a £300m luxury British cruise liner as it crashed while docking in Malta.

Cunard's Queen Victoria, which was named by the Duchess of Cornwall in Southampton in December, hit the quay at Valletta.

None of the 1,887 passengers onboard was injured in the crash.

"The ship touched the quay as she was berthing and sustained some damage which is now being assessed," said Cunard president Carol Marlow.

The 90,000-ton ship, which Cunard says is its most luxurious, boasts seven restaurants, three swimming pools, a 6,000-book library and a casino.

The previous three Cunard "queens" were named or launched by reigning queens.

The three Cunard "queens" in Southampton
Queen Victoria was recently joined by the QE2 and QM2 in Southampton
But the champagne bottle used in Queen Victoria's naming ceremony failed to break against the ship, regarded in maritime circles as bad luck.

Cunard said the damage was being assessed and that repairs were under way and should be completed during the night.

"This will necessitate the cancellation of the call at La Goulette in Tunisia which the ship was due to visit tomorrow but its expected call to Gibraltar on the 17 May will go ahead as planned.

"Cunard will be compensating guests for the disruption to their voyage," a spokesman said.

Queen Victoria will eventually replace the 40-year-old QE2, which is being decommissioned and turned into a floating hotel in Dubai from 2009.


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