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LE HAVRE, France – The Latest on French labor dispute (all times local):
France's junior minister for transport is insisting that strikes at oil refineries and nuclear plants won't leave the country without gasoline or electricity.
On a day of nationwide action against a labor reform, Alain Vidalies said on Europe-1 radio Thursday "we don't risk running out."
He acknowledged "the situation remains tense," with five of the country's eight oil refineries on strike and one closed for maintenance.
After days of gasoline shortages, he says supplies to gas pumps improved slightly Thursday. He says: "We unblocked 11 (fuel) depots and will continue to unblock them."
He played down any concerns that nuclear plant strikes would lead to blackouts, saying France could import electricity if needed.
Unions are angry at a labor bill loosening the work week and weakening unions.
With union activists disrupting fuel supplies, trains and nuclear plants, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls opened the door Thursday to possible changes in a labor bill that has sparked intensifying strikes and protests — but insisted the government will not abandon it.
The reform, aimed at boosting hiring by loosening protection for French workers, has escalated into the toughest challenge yet to President Francois Hollande and his Socialist government.
"There could be improvements and modifications" in the bill, Valls said on BFM television Thursday. He didn't elaborate on what might be changed, and insisted that the "heart" of the bill should remain. Withdrawing the bill "is not possible," he said.
Members of the CGT union immediately dismissed the gesture, saying they want the bill scrapped, not modified. "It's inadmissible," said Arnaud Pacot of the CGT in the Aube region of eastern France said on BFM from a nuclear plant being blocked by activists.
Union activists are burning tires and blocking a major bridge on the northern French coast on a day of nationwide strikes and protests over a labor reform.
Demonstrators gathered early Thursday morning at a central square in the venerable port town of Harfleur, setting off fireworks and air horns.
Activists were unapologetic about the disruption they planned.
"We have to hit where it hurts," said union official Gilles Guyomard. "And where it hurts is the bosses' wallets."
The activists then went to the 2-kilometer-long Pont de Normandie, which bridges the Seine River at Le Havre, setting a pile of tires aflame and blocking toll booths.
Strikes and protests are being held around France on Thursday against a labor bill that extends the work week and makes layoffs easier.
Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.