Evening Update Wednesday 22nd March 2023

12,000 police officers and gendarmes nationwide will be mobilised tomorrow to keep an eye on the latest day of strikes and protests against France's pension reforms. Demonstrations are planned in dozens of French towns and cities, including in Nice where protestors will gather outside the Centre Administratif at 10am tomorrow and march towards Nice Airport. Unions are warning of a Black Thursday, with widespread disruption to public services, schools and hospitals. Public transport on the Riviera tomorrow will be largely at a standstill. Earlier today, protestors occupied Nice-Ville railway station. The offices of several local MPs in the Alpes-Maritimes have been vandalised in recent days after the government pushed through its controversial pension reform without a full vote.

In Marseille, trade union activists blocked the A55 motorway on the outskirts of the city in the height of this morning's rush hour, forcing motorists to follow a diversion to reach the city centre. Protestors also put up barricades and burnt tyres at one of the main entrances to the port of Marseille, in protest against the pension reforms. There were violent scenes yesterday at the Fos-sur-Mer oil refinery, where staff had been requisitioned and ordered to return to work. In Puget-sur-Argens, CGT trade unionists blocked access to the Côte d'Azur fuel depot, preventing delivery trucks from entering or leaving. The Var and Alpes-Maritimes préfectures have both introduced new restrictions on the sale of petrol, with a limit of 30 litres for ordinary vehicles and 120 litres for trucks.

Meanwhile, faced with a shortage of petrol at the pumps, the Aix-en-Provence-Marseille metropolis has passed several emergency measures to make travelling by public transport easier. Bus tickets in the area, which are normally only valid for one journey, can be used for all full 24 hours until further notice. Park-and-ride facilities around Marseille will be free, and extra rush hour metros and trams will run in the city.

In other local news, the accident and emergency department at Hyères hospital in the Var is once again running a reduced level of service today due to chronic short-staffing. Doctors are having to prioritise life-threatening emergencies, paediatric, psychiatric and pregnancy-related cases. They're asking people to contact their doctor first, or SOS Médecins, or call the emergency number 15 for guidance before turning up to A&E. Hospital management say the severe staff shortages in the emergency ward are temporary and two new recruits are due to join the team in April.

If you saw a dozen heavily armed and hooded police officers burst into the Grimaldi Forum yesterday morning, fear not - it was a training exercise. Monaco's public security intervention officers carried out a simulation of a hostage-taking inside the venue. In the made-up scenario, a man managed to gain access to the Grimaldi Forum with a fake badge, stabbed an employee and took two people hostage in an electrical room. The exercise is designed to prepare officers and let them practise how they would intervene in the event of something similar happening in real life.

Job interviews have begun this week to hire hosts and hostesses to oversee the smooth running of this year's Cannes Film Festival. 400 vacant positions need to be filled for this 76th edition of the major international event, which runs from 16-27 May. The candidates must speak excellent English, be friendly and flexible in regards to working hours and locations. After two rounds of interviews, the successful applicants receive a 12-day CDD fixed-term contract and they're paid the minimum wage.

And with its little boutiques and art galleries, the village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence has a lot going for it. But for the past 30 years, the second most-visited village in France after Mont-Saint-Michel has been lacking one crucial ingredient - a bakery. That's now changed and a new bakery has opened its doors to the public in the centre of the village, on Rue Grande. It’s open seven days a week and everything is made on site by a baker who lives in nearby La Colle sur Loup. The mayor of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Jean-Pierre Camilla, is delighted. His parents were the last people to operate a bakery in the village until the 1990s when they retired. He says the fact there hasn't been a bakery since is partly his fault - he chose not to take over the family business and went off in another professional direction instead.

BUSINESS

The cost of living in the UK increased last month after shortages of salad and vegetables helped push food prices to their highest for 45 years. Alcohol prices in restaurants and pubs also drove up costs for households as inflation jumped to 10.4% in the year to February from 10.1% in January. Clothing costs, particularly for children and women, rose last month but fuel prices continued to fall. The figures come ahead of a decision on interest rates on Thursday. The UK's central bank, the Bank of England, will decide whether to increase, reduce or maintain interest rates at their current level as it continues its battle to ease inflation. The Bank has put up rates 10 times in a row since December 2021, as it seeks to make borrowing money more expensive and encourage people to spend less, hopefully stopping prices rising as quickly. One of the main drivers behind February's surprise inflation figure was the continued rise in food costs, which came at a time when supermarkets were experiencing shortages of some salad items and vegetables. Tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers were among vegetables in scarce supply on British supermarket shelves.

An employee at Credit Suisse's London office has said many staff are job hunting amid the "disaster" faced by workers due to the bank's shock takeover by rival UBS. Thousands of investment bankers working in the capital are expected to lose their jobs after UBS chairman Colm Kelleher said the bank intends to downsize that side of the business "and align it with its conservative risk culture". Yesterday, the Swiss department of finance ordered Credit Suisse to temporarily suspend bonuses for all employees. Earlier this week, the lender told staff it planned to complete bonus payments ahead of the takeover. More than 5,000 staff work at Credit Suisse in London, including investment bankers who are one of the groups most likely to face layoffs.

SPORT

Football - The Premier League has offered a £30m-a-year sweetener to the rest of English football's professional pyramid in an attempt to thrash out a deal over the sport's future funding. The top flight has told the English Football League that it's prepared to hand over £125m extra every year, up from the £95m-per-season it proposed in December. If agreed, this new funding would be in addition to existing financial contributions totalling hundreds of millions of pounds a year made by the Premier League to the EFL. The revised proposal, tabled during a meeting of Premier League and EFL executives, follows months of talks about a so-called 'New Deal for Football'. Any agreement between the two - with the Football Association also involved in the discussions - would include strict conditions on cost controls. This could mean more of the money distributed by the Premier League being spent on items other than players' wages, such as infrastructure.

Tennis - Belarusian world number two Aryna Sabalenka says she has faced "hate" in the locker room over her country's role in Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The Australian Open champion also said she has had "weird conversations" with members of player's teams. Belarus is an ally of Russia and allowed troops to use its territory to launch the invasion last year. Players from both Russia and Belarus have been classified as neutral athletes since the start of the conflict and were banned from last year's Wimbledon. Sabalenka, who lost in the final of Indian Wells to Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina on Sunday, was speaking before the start of the Miami Open. Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko withdrew from a match against Sabalenka - the 2023 Australian Open champion - at Indian Wells last week.

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