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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 October 2005, 08:35 GMT 09:35 UK
French troops end island blockade
French troops secure Ajaccio harbour
Riot troops secured the Ajaccio seaport at daybreak
French police have ended a blockade of the Corsican seaport of Ajaccio by striking workers, amid a row over the sell-off of a state-run ferry company.

Riot police backed by armoured vehicles removed the protesters who blocked the ferry ramp in the island's main city.

Strikers had cut off sea links with the French mainland, stranding hundreds of tourists and preventing deliveries.

The dispute over the privatisation of the ferry operator SNCM has stoked nationalist feelings in Corsica.

The seaports of Ajaccio and Bastia had been blocked by staff of the debt-ridden company, which the government is planning to sell.

The blockades began on Wednesday, after police arrested four nationalist activists accused of hijacking an SNCM ship in Marseille on the mainland.

The four were released on Friday, in a possible sign of appeasement by the authorities.

Early on Saturday, security forces moved into Ajaccio harbour removing the lorries and protesters from the ferry access ramp. No violence was reported.

"Our objective is to allow free movement of traffic in the port of Ajaccio, initially to allow the very large number of tourists stuck in Corsica to leave," the island's chief administrator, Pierre-Rene Lemas, said.

SNCM has been plagued by debts, strikes and competition from private operators.

Further aid from the French state is barred by European Union regulations, and the company faces bankruptcy unless an outside buyer is found.

However both unions and Corsican nationalist groups are fiercely opposed to a sell-off.

The dispute has fuelled tensions on the island, which has been plagued by separatist violence for three decades.

On Thursday a rocket was fired at the authorities' headquarters in Ajaccio, causing damage but injuring no-one.

Sympathy strikes have also disrupted air links to Corsica.

Protesters who had blockaded two oil terminals near Marseille were also removed by security forces early on Saturday.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See riot police arriving to break up the blockade




SEE ALSO:
Strikes cripple French railways
02 Jun 05 |  Europe


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