Thursday 26 May 2016 3:22 pm

French strikes spark confrontations between police and protestors

Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets, smoke bombs were thrown and arrests made amid protests over new labour laws by the French government.

Their grievances centre on the government's proposed reforms to employment laws, which make it easier for firms to hire and fire. Prime Minister Manuel Valls said some tweaks could be made, however not on any key planks.

Stoppages at oil refineries, nuclear power plants and railways — as well as road blocks and burning wood pallets and tyres at key ports like Le Havre and near key distribution hubs — choked off the country's power and fuel supply.

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There were also clashes between police and groups of youths in Paris, according to the Agence France-Presse (AFP). While the protests are underway across France, the biggest rally is in its capital city.

It comes as France gears up to host the Euro 2016 championships in two weeks time. The CGT union which is leading the strikes has warned that the international football tournament could disrupted if the government refuses to back down.

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CGT union workers voted yesterday to join the nationwide strike which has paralysed businesses. A spokesperson said the stoppages, which started yesterday at about 8pm local time, would reduce power but the reactors wouldn't stop running.

France gets about three quarters of its electricity in 19 nuclear plants run by state-controlled utility EDF. However, it isn't at risk of a blackout due to legal limits on strike action in the nuclear industry, and the country's ability to import power from its neighbours.

During a strike in January EDF imported up to six gigawatts of power — equivalent to about six nuclear plants – from neighbouring countries through its grid unit RTE's extensive network of interconnections with neighbouring countries.