A third of France's filling stations ran dry on Tuesday, the government said, while cars were set alight and police fired tear gas at rioters on the sidelines of protests that brought a million people into the street.
Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said three depots were peacefully reopened overnight and in the early hours, as had been ordered at a crisis meeting by President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"The current situation cannot continue without serious consequences for our life as a society and our economy but also for the health and safety of our citizens," Hortefeux told a news conference on Wednesday.
"We will continue to unblock these depots as much as necessary," Hortefeux said. "We will not let the country be blockaded and we will not let the thugs go unpunished," he added, referring to those arrested in street riots.
Protesters meanwhile blockaded several more depots and at one of the three that was cleared, in Donges in western France, vehicles promptly blocked the access roads after the blockade at the entrance was lifted.
Disruption to transport has eased after Tuesday:
- Ongoing disruption is forecast on national railways with a third of TGV express trains cancelled, operator SNCF said, more than a week after unions in several strategic sectors of the economy launched open-ended strikes;
- At France's main air hub, Roissy-Charles de Gaulle, unions announced blockades of access roads. Airport authorities said flights were normal on Wednesday morning but warned of disruptions later in the day;
- A quarter of flights are cancelled at Paris's second biggest airport, Orly;
- Hundreds of schools remain blockaded in the strike, the government and a schools union said;
- CNIR traffic info service counted a dozen roadblocks or go-slows on Wednesday morning after truckers joined in the strike action this week;
- In Marseille, rubbish piles up in the streets of due to a strike by collectors.
Sarkozy's reform would raise the standard retirement age from 60 to 62 and the full benefits threshold from 65 to 67, in what the government says is an essential measure to cut France's public deficit.
Unions and political opponents say it places an unfair burden on workers and have proposed alternative ways to cut the deficit.
The unions are to meet again Thursday to decide their next action. The Senate is currently debating the bill, with numerous opposition amendments meaning that a vote is likely to be taken on Thursday or Friday. A definitive vote is expected to take place next Tuesday or Wednesday.
Television news was dominated on Tuesday by scenes of clashes between riot police and youths in Lyon and suburbs of Paris, which Hortefeux blamed on a rogue minority of "thugs" who joined ongoing protests by high school pupils.
The minister, who heads a crisis cell to deal with the disruption, said police had arrested 1,423 alleged rioters over the past week.
A poll by BVA published Wednesday said 59 per cent of French people supported a continuation of the strike even if the Senate passes the reform.