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Unions extend blockage at three French LNG terminals for second week - sources, media

By Marwa Rashad

LONDON/PARIS (Reuters) - Blockages at the three French liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals will be extended for a second week as part of a national protest movement against President Emmanuel Macron's pension reform plan, two trading sources and French media reported on Tuesday.

The closure of the three terminals operated by Engie subsidiary Elengy, which started on March 7, was initially planned to end on Tuesday, March 14, but has been extended to March 21. The blockage was expected to reduce French LNG send-out of gas to the grid by around 0.5 billion cubic meters.

The two sources also said that the strike disrupting the Dunkirk LNG terminal operated by Fluxys, is likely to follow suit, meaning the four French LNG terminals will remain at a halt.

Closure at this terminal has already been renewed on Monday evening until Friday. The company's website confirmed it was a "Force Majeure by strike action", where loading was halted and delivery capacity was reduced to the minimum.

Earlier on Tuesday, a union official told Reuters that a vote will determine if blockages are renewed or not, adding that storage of gas was also blocked until the withdrawal of the pension reform.

French media have also reported that the union have voted to extend the strike.

Several LNG ships heading to France have changed course to other terminals in Britain, the Netherlands and Spain, since the strike action started.

Before the decision to extend the strikes, markets did not show major signs of concern, with European gas prices falling for two consecutive days, and many analysts said European power systems could cope with low French nuclear generation if renewable power generation is strong.

The strike also comes at a time where European gas storage remain at relatively comfortable level of 56.50% full.

However, closure of the terminals for another week will significantly impact France's ability to export gas to neighbouring countries.

Since end January, France has been hit by rolling strikes against the very unpopular pension reform, with key refineries blocked, railway transport disrupted and garbage piling up on the streets of Paris and other cities.

The next step, scheduled for Wednesday, is the convening of a joint committee of lower and upper house lawmakers to agree on a definitive version of the text. That day, unions plan a new day of strikes and protests.

The last and crucial moment would be a final vote, Thursday, in both houses.

Macron's party needs the support of Les Republicains to ensure the bill is approved. But the conservative lawmakers are very divided on the issue and there are even cracks in the presidential camp, with Macron's former environment minister Barbara Pompili opposing it.

(Reporting by Marwa Rashad in London, Forrest Crellin and Benoit Van Overstraeten in Paris; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Marguerita Choy)