President Francois Hollande warned anti-reform protesters that he would not let them strangle the economy as a stand-off with unions deepens. But despite waves of strikes and demonstrations, French households are finally turning more optimistic as consumer confidence surged to its highest level since October 2007. Ivor Bennett reports.
A day of action and a day of violence. Anger over labour law reforms exploding on the streets of Paris. 150,000 took part in nationwide demonstrations. Backing unions in an ongoing government standoff. (SOUNDBITE) (French) LEADER OF THE FO UNION, JEAN-CLAUDE MAILLY, SAYING: "Well the government is deaf, what do you want me to say? The prime minister must buy himself a hearing aid. As long as he keeps his heels dug in, the conflict will go on." Their aim is to choke off fuel supplies. And it's clearly working. Blockades at the country's oil refineries have triggered panic buying and seemingly endless queues. (SOUNDBITE) (French) CAR OWNER ISABELLE SAYING: "I find it obnoxious, those helping out this blockade and these strikers. It's causing panic, people are unable to get fuel. I find it's a little bit too much." But there's little hope of compromise. Riot police clearing this blockade the latest sign of the government's intent. A surprise surge in consumer confidence - to its highest level in nearly 9 years - gives some credence to President Hollande's assertions that the economy is improving. but he says the reforms are needed if unemployment is to go any lower. (SOUNDBITE) (English) COMMERZBANK, GLOBAL FINANCIAL ECONOMIST, PETER DIXON, SAYING: "I think there's a lot more that needs to be done in order to tap into the undoubted potential that the French economy has. And of course, across the Rhine in Germany, they'll say 'look, we did this 10 or more years ago, we think this is a good way to go and maybe you can learn some lessons from us'." Hollande and the government are standing firm for now. But the key test of their resolve could be this time next year - in the form of a presidential election.