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French riot police move against truckers

PARIS -- Riot police using a small tank moved against truckers blocking the key Paris to Lille highway, opening the artery and signaling an end to a week of chaos on French roads.

Officials said that after the tank dislodged a truck, the other drivers blocking the road decided to remove their vehicles on their own. There were no reports of violence.

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The truckers are protesting the imposition of a point system for driving licenses, saying it will hurt their business.

French officials said the police action opened the highway in both directions, ending a one-week blockade that disrupted deliveries and prevented tourists from northern Europe from reaching their vacation destinations in southern France and Spain.

In the south, riot police moved against the striking truckers on a national route between Arles and Fos-sur-Mer. The action allowed traffic to flow freely between the Languedoc region and Provence along the Mediterranean.

The police moves came after a chaotic weekend in France that saw truckers and farmers block roads and halt train traffic at as many as 150 different points. The police moved against the strikers only minutes after Interior Minister Paul Quiles repeated on the Europe One radio network that the government would not abandon plans to introduce a drivers license based on the point system.

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Quiles said 13,000 riot police, 12 small tanks and 21 helicopters had been mobilized to break up the barricades.

'It is a question of the authority of the state,' Quiles said. The Interior Minister said the law establishing the point system was voted by the national assembly three years ago with hardly a protest.

The point system, in effect in many industrial democracies, was introduced in France in an effort to reduce the number of deaths on the roads, one of the highest in the Western world. Under the plan a driver can have his license taken away if his violations toal six points.

The truckers argue that employers force them to ignore speed limits in order to arrive at their destinations as soon as possible. They say the provision in the law stating they must wait six months before passing a new test will in effect deprive them of their livelihood.

French public opinion has backed the truckers, but at the same time polls show that most Frenchmen support the point system.

The government has been criticized for not adequately informing the truckers about the new law and putting it into effect at the start of the summer vacation driving period, when millions of European tourists are on the roads.

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