Students aim to bolster French protests

French students will stage protests on Tuesday to try to bolster opposition to the government’s pension reforms amid some signs of cracks in the movement.The numbers could be a litmus test, correspondents say, after three of 12 national oil refineries voted to end their action and a rubbish collectors’ strike in Marseille was suspended.The row comes to a head this week.Parliament is expected to hold a final vote on Wednesday, while a nationwide strike has been called for Thursday.The vote in parliament is expected to bring into law an increase in the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62.The BBC’s Christian Fraser in Paris says the students are supposed to be on half-term break but instead are planning a series of marches around the country in opposition to the plan to increase the minimum retirement age.President Nicolas Sarkozy will be hoping the vote – and the 10-day school holiday – will take the sting out of the protest.But our correspondent says the students will be out to prove him wrong and how many come out will be the litmus test of where this protest is heading.Unions say that rubbish collectors in the southern port of Marseille will end their high-profile two-week strike on Tuesday.

All of France’s 200 fuel supply depots were cleared of strikers on Monday, and Energy Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said 80% of petrol stations would be operating normally on Tuesday.However, seven French refineries are still closed – all six Total refineries and the Berre l’Etang plant in the south – and buffer stocks of petrol and diesel are almost exhausted. Unless refineries reopen, our correspondent says, France could face an even more serious fuel crisis by the end of the week – Bcc