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  1. Petrol shortages begin to bite

    Paul Kirby

    Europe digital editor

    Drivers queue for fuel at a TotalEnergies service station in Marseille, southern France, on March 21, 2023
    Image caption: The area around Marseille is among those worst affected

    A number of refineries and fuel depots have been blockaded for days by unions opposed to the government's pension reforms.

    The strikes have taken time to take effect but around one in six petrol stations are now experiencing some kind of fuel shortage.

    It really depends which part of France you're in.

    French reports say 40 of France's 96 departments are affected, especially in Brittany and Normandy in the north and much of the area around the Mediterranean coast.

    The government has stepped in to ease the situation in the south, requiring minimum staffing at each depot.

    But union leaders are warning that fuel shortages will intensify. In the Bouches-du-Rhône area around Marseille this morning almost two-thirds of petrol stations were reported to be out of at least one fuel.

    The Paris region isn't so badly affected but the main airports at Orly and Charles de Gaulle have been warned to take precautions.

  2. Serious injuries at protests

    Paul Kirby

    Europe digital editor

    French police officers protect a colleague injured during clashes with protesters as thousands of people participate in a protest against the government's reform of the pension system in Paris, France, 23 March 2023
    Image caption: Police rushed to protect their colleague when he fell

    Two shocking images have emerged from today's protests.

    A police officer in Paris was dragged to safety while unconscious, as he and his colleagues came under fire from fireworks and other missiles. The officer appeared to have been hit on the head.

    And in the northern city of Rouen this morning a young woman was seen lying on the ground after sustaining a serious injury to her hand. Witnesses said she lost her thumb after she was hit by a so-called "flash-ball" grenade fired by police to disperse demonstrators.

    The Rouen incident has sparked outrage locally. Local MP Damien Adam, who is part of the ruling Renaissance party, says it's "clearly unacceptable" and he wants a police inquiry to find out what happened.

    The far-left France Unbowed party complained that six protesters had been hurt by police tear gas and stun grenades and wants to know what orders officers were given.

    Police in Rouen say two officers were also injured when missiles were thrown at them.

  3. Video content

    Video caption: France pension protests: Rubbish and e-scooter set on fire as row rages

    Protesters against Macron's pension reform set bins alight after two weeks of rubbish strikes.

  4. Video content

    Video caption: Albania PM talks about James Bond, Mr Bean and Dua Lipa

    Edi Rama sprinkles in British and Albanian cultural references when meeting Rishi Sunak to discuss migrants.

  5. Union leader appeals for non-violence

    Paul Kirby

    Europe digital editor

    Laurent Berger, secretary general of French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) and CGT labour union leader Philippe Martinez attend a demonstration as part of the ninth day of nationwide strikes
    Image caption: Laurent Berger has called for non-violence but Phillipe Martinez says the French president is to blame

    The mood has become increasingly tense in Paris and clashes have been reported on the fringes of marches in the capital as well as in Rennes, Nantes and Lorient.

    As the Paris march set off this afternoon, the leader of the moderate CFDT union, Laurent Berger, appealed for "respect for property and people".

    "We need non-violent actions that don't handicap people's daily lives."

    Philippe Martinez, who heads the more hardline CGT union, blames President Macron for the anger on the streets: "He's thrown a can of petrol on the fire."

    The vast majority of protests have passed off without violence but some demonstrators dressed in black and known locally as "Black Bloc" radicals have been out on the streets, throwing stones and bottles at police and setting fire to bins.

  6. What freedom feels like after two years' captivity

    BBC Focus on Africa radio

    French hostage journalist Olivier Dubois, who was held hostage in Mali for nearly two years, arrives at the Villacoublay airport, in Velizy-Villacoublay, near Paris, France, March 21
    Image caption: Olivier Dubois returned to France on Tuesday

    A French journalist who was held captive in northern Mali for nearly two years has told the BBC that he is "slowly but surely" getting used to the idea that he is now free.

    Olivier Dubois was abducted in 2021 in the city of Gao by the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM) - the main jihadist alliance in the Sahel region.

    He was released on Tuesday, along with an American captive, and flew back to France.

    In an interview with Focus on Africa radio, Dubois said that he imagined that something may have been given in exchange for his freedom - either money or jihadi prisoners - but he was not aware of the specifics of the deal.

    One of the topics of conversation among Dubois' captors was how much he was worth, he said. Some estimated 5m euros ($5.4m;£4.4m) and others reckoned double that.

    He said he was never beaten and tried to maintain good relations with those holding him. However, he was subjected to a mock execution after a failed attempt to escape.

    In order to maintain his sanity, Dubois created a regular daily programme of events which included sport, studying the Quran and cooking.

    A self-confessed foodie, the journalist said it was tough preparing good food with limited ingredients, but he enjoyed making pasta and bread stuffed with dates.

    As for what next, Dubois said he now needs to connect with his family and will take some time to think about his future.

  7. Protests attract thousands in cities beyond the capital

    Paul Kirby

    Europe digital editor

    There have been big turnouts in a number of French cities - 320 protests were due to take place across the country.

    Some of the biggest demos have been in the south, in Marseille, Nice and Toulon, although the numbers are strongly contested. The port at Marseille has been blocked by demonstrators for a second day.

    Further north in Lyon hundreds of railway workers, students and others have taken to the tracks disrupting trains.

    In Rennes, in the north west, police fired water cannon and tear gas as some masked protesters erected barricades.

    A demonstrator stands near burning wreckages during a rally against the law reforming the pensions system in Rennes, western France on March 23, 2023
    Image caption: A number of demonstrators in Rennes clashed with police

    A police station and a local prefecture office came under attack in the town of Lorient. Fires were started outside the police station and one police officer, Linda Kebab, said some of her colleagues had been violently attacked.

    Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said the attacks were unacceptable and could not go unpunished.

    In Normandy in the north thousands of turned out in the cities of Rouen, Caen, Le Havre and Dieppe. Riot police fired tear gas in Rouen as some protesters threw stones.

  8. What does Macron say about the pension reforms?

    Paul Kirby

    Europe digital editor

    Emmanuel Macron gives TV interview to calm unrest in France, Paris - 22 Mar 2023
    Image caption: President Macron tried to calm tensions but it didn't seem to work out

    President Macron was in a defiant mood ahead of today's strikes: "Do you think I enjoy doing this reform? No." His aim was to soothe French anger, but he appears to have stoked it.

    He says France has to balance the books. When he started working, he told TV viewers, there were 10 million people drawing a French pension and now there were 17 million.

    As France's pay-as-you-go system means today's workers pay for today's retirees, he said "the longer we wait, the more [the deficit] gets worse". It was in the national interest, he argues, and he put that above opinion polls.

    Certainly many workers around Europe will wonder what the problem is if the pension age goes up from 62 to 64. But these reforms also mean paying into the system for 43 years rather than 42. And the unions argue the real age of retirement across Europe averages out at under 64.

    An Elabe poll suggests 71% of French viewers found Macron unconvincing, while 61% believe he's only raised tensions even more. Opposition to the reforms has risen to 72%, Elabe says, and while three quarters of those surveyed condemn violent acts or clashes with police, as many as 42% say they understand them.