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Japan G7 Summit

G7 leaders pledge action on terrorism, refugees, slow growth

SHIMA, Japan (AP) — The leaders of the Group of Seven rich economies ended a summit Friday by issuing an action plan for countering terrorism and other risks to peace and global growth, including the massive flows of refugees and migrants fleeing to Europe to escape conflict and poverty at home. A sweeping declaration from the meeting at a scenic Japanese seaside resort addressed covered a universe of global and regional challenges, a breadth not matched by a depth of concrete measures. The G-7 leaders claimed a “special responsibility” for beefing up policies to stimulate and sustain growth of their sluggish economies. But their declaration glossed over disagreements over coordinating public spending policies to help perk up weak consumer spending and business investment, saying each country would take into account “country-specific circumstances.” Germany, in particular, has balked at calls from other G-7 members to commit to an expansionary fiscal policy. “Weak demand and unaddressed structural problems are the key factors weighing on actual and potential growth,” they said in the declaration. “We remain committed to ensuring that growth is inclusive and job-rich, benefiting all segments of our societies.” In a nod to concern over how to pay for such spending, especially in Japan where the public debt is more than twice the size of its economy, the communique includes a reference to the need to ensure debt is “on a sustainable path.” The G-7 host, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he had won support from his counterparts for his own “three arrows” economic strategy of ultra-loose monetary policy, public spending and longer-term reforms. “We will be launching ‘Abenomics’ to the world,” Abe said. Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, said there was agreement on such a three-pronged approach. “Many countries can do quite a lot and some more than they are currently doing,” Lagarde told reporters after the meeting ended. She said the IMF would help identify what countries could and should do to help counter slowing growth. Abe appealed to his fellow leaders to act to avert another global crisis, comparing the current global economic situation to conditions just before the 2008 financial crisis. Lagarde was less alarmist, saying the world was “no longer in a 2008 moment.” “We are out of the crisis but we are suffering the legacy of the crisis,” she said, pointing to bad loans on the books of companies and banks as one of the biggest causes for concern. The annual summit brings together the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. Leaders of major international organizations and of a select group of developing countries attended “outreach” sessions held once the G-7 summit meetings ended. The G-7 leaders denounced protectionism and trade barriers and noted the negative impact from overcapacity in some industries. One of the biggest headaches, Abe said, was a glut in China’s steel industry. “It’s a root cause distorting the market, and unless it’s fundamentally resolved, the problem persists,” he said. During talks on the sidelines, the U.S., EU and Japan reiterated their determination to reach agreement on various trade agreements meant to expand mutual market access. In their declaration, the summit leaders cited the possible departure of Britain from the European Union, depending on the outcome of a June 23 vote, as one of many potential shocks for the global economy. British Prime Minister David Cameron said staying in the EU was “all about Britain’s national interest.” “It’s about Britain being big and bold,” he said. The leaders also expressed concern over territorial tensions in the East and South China seas. The declaration does not mention China and its expansion into disputed areas specifically, but calls for respecting freedom of navigation and of overflight and for resolving conflicts peacefully through law. The summit declaration also highlighted joint efforts on corruption, cybercrimes, terrorism, global health and migration — which has become a huge headache especially for European nations — as other top priorities. It said a global response was needed to cope with the surge in refugees, migrants and other displaced people to its highest level since World War II and committed to increasing assistance to meet their immediate and long-term needs. But there were no specific, concrete offers of extra help. President Barack Obama was traveling Friday from Shima to Hiroshima, where he would become the first sitting American president to visit the city on which the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb in 1945 in the closing days of World War II. Associated Press writers Miki Toda and Aritz Parra in Berlin contributed to this story. Kurtenbach reported from Ise, Japan.

China GM Recall

GM recalls 2.2 million cars in China

BEIJING (AP) — General Motors Co.‘s main Chinese joint venture is recalling 2.2 million cars to deal with insufficient corrosion resistance on crankcase valves. The recall was ordered after Shanghai-GM received complaints about engine damage, according to the country’s product quality regulator. The automaker is a joint venture between GM and state-owned Shanghai Automotive Industries Corp. The recall applies to Buick Excelle sedans and Chevrolet Cruzes, Epicas and Aveos. The product quality agency said GM will replace affected valves for free. Sales by GM and its Chinese partners of GM-brand vehicles rose 5.2 percent last year to 3.6 million units.

China Alibaba Anti-Counterfeit Group

How Alibaba won _ and lost _ a friend in Washington

SHANGHAI (AP) — In 2011, a respected anti-counterfeiting coalition in Washington escalated its fight against the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, saying that its websites served as a 24-hour market “for counterfeiters and pirates” and should be blacklisted. Fast forward to 2016. That lobbying group, the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition, called Alibaba “one of our strongest partners,” welcomed it as a member and invited its founder, Jack Ma, to speak at its spring conference. Alibaba won — and ultimately lost— a friend in Washington using legal methods long deployed by corporate America: money and influence. A month after it became the first e-commerce company to join the IACC, Alibaba got kicked out. An Associated Press analysis of public filings shows that as personal and financial ties between Alibaba and the coalition deepened, the group’s public comments shifted from criticism to praise, even as others — including the U.S. and Chinese governments — took a harder line. Those who believe Alibaba intentionally profits from the sale of fakes fear the company could lobby its way out of having to make meaningful changes. That, critics say, would benefit the multibillion-dollar counterfeiting industry, which costs U.S. companies money, can imperil consumers’ safety and feeds an underground money-laundering industry. Alibaba is at the forefront of China’s rise on the global stage, and the anxiety and suspicion that have greeted the company abroad are, to some extent, anxiety and suspicion about China itself. Alibaba was among the first Chinese companies to play politics seriously inside the beltway, and may not have realized how even the smallest misstep can backfire, said Sean Miner, China program manager for the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “Their reputation has preceded them,” he said. “Some Americans might think, ‘Why don’t you go home and fix the problems first?‘” When Robert Barchiesi, a gruff-talking former New York cop, took over the IACC, the coalition singled out Alibaba and its Taobao platform for facilitating the large-scale sale of fakes. The U.S. Trade Representative placed Taobao on a blacklist in 2008. Alibaba responded by ramping up its game in Washington. In 2012, Alibaba’s lobbying expenditures shot up from $100,000 a year to $461,000, and has remained fairly steady since, according to Opensecrets.org. It has hired several well-connected people, including a former general counsel for the U.S. Trade Representative and a former White House senior director for intellectual property enforcement coordination. By the end of 2012, Alibaba was off the notorious markets list. The U.S. Trade Representative commended Taobao for its “notable efforts” to work with rights-holders. The next year, the coalition signed an agreement with Alibaba to expedite removal of counterfeit goods through a program called MarketSafe. The coalition charged its members $12,500 last year to participate. The coalition had found a way to monetize brands’ frustration with Alibaba’s take-down procedures. Barchiesi’s daughter-in-law, Kathryn Barchiesi, provided “investigative support” for MarketSafe. The coalition says the program is not profitable, but those fees helped the IACC more than double revenues, to $2.6 million, during Robert Barchiesi’s tenure. Five weeks before Alibaba’s 2014 public offering on the New York Stock Exchange, Barchiesi went on CNBC and deflected attention from Alibaba, saying counterfeiting on Alibaba’s sites was a “microcosm of a bigger problem.” He praised the company for working “in good faith” with the coalition. What Barchiesi didn’t say is that he too would buy shares in Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. He bought shares on that first wild day of trading, at $91 each, according to the coalition, which says his holdings represent a “small percentage” of his portfolio. Alibaba’s shares shot up 38 percent in one day. It was the largest IPO in history, catapulting Ma to near-mythic status. By 2015, the coalition had stopped complaining about Alibaba to U.S. officials, focusing instead on the “true cooperation and partnership” they enjoyed through MarketSafe. But neither the U.S. nor China was convinced the company had turned a corner. In January 2015, Chinese regulators published a report stating that just 37 percent of the goods purchased on Taobao were genuine. Alibaba disputed the accuracy of the report, which disappeared from the Chinese internet. Meanwhile, the American Apparel & Footwear Association, which represents over 1,000 brands, urged U.S. authorities to put Taobao back on the counterfeiting blacklist. “The slow pace has convinced us that Alibaba is either not capable of or interested in addressing the problem,” the group told U.S. authorities. In December, the U.S. Trade Representative reported that Alibaba’s platforms had been “widely criticized” for selling large quantities of counterfeit goods. It urged Alibaba to “enhance cooperation.” The next month, Matthew Bassiur, a longtime friend of Barchiesi’s with deep ties to the coalition, started work as Alibaba’s chief of global intellectual property enforcement. The coalition continued to praise Alibaba to U.S. officials and in April welcomed the company as its first e-commerce member. Members revolted. Michael Kors and Gucci America quit in noisy protest. Tiffany left soon after, citing governance issues. The coalition suspended Alibaba’s membership category the same day the AP published an investigation revealing Barchiesi’s Alibaba stock ownership. The coalition’s board vowed to commission an independent review. Ma’s keynote speech at the coalition’s conference was called off; Alibaba’s president spoke instead. But Ma came to America anyway, and left no doubt that despite its public relations debacle, Alibaba has succeeded in making inroads with Washington. Reporters spotted him leaving the White House in a crush of black umbrellas last week after a quiet lunch with President Barack Obama. He pronounced the meeting “very good,” ducked in a waiting car and was gone. Associated Press reporters Stephen Braun and Josh Lederman in Washington and researcher Fu Ting in Shanghai contributed to this report. Follow Kinetz on Twitter http://twitter.com/ekinetz and Butler at http://twitter.com/desmondbutler

Financial Markets Wall Street-6

Asian stocks mostly higher ahead of Yellen talk, US data

HONG KONG (AP) — Asian stock markets were mostly higher Friday as investors maintained a cautiously optimistic outlook while they waited for U.S. economic data and remarks by the Fed chief. KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index added 0.4 percent to 16,843.73 and South Korea’s Kospi gained 0.2 percent to 1,961.15. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slipped 0.3 percent to 20,329.79 and the Shanghai Composite Index dipped 0.2 percent to 2,815.72, but Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.5 percent to 5,415.90. Benchmarks in Taiwan, New Zealand and Southeast Asia also rose. FED RATE: Investors will be watching to see what Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen has to say about monetary policy. She’s scheduled to hold a “conversation” about interest rates with a professor at an event at Harvard University. The Fed has signaled that it will raise rates again at its next meeting in June if economic conditions continue to improve, another step in dialing back loose the loose monetary police that has supported global stock markets. MARKET INSIGHT: “Yellen’s public comments tonight could give markets good reason to remain cautious,” said Margaret Yang, an analyst at CMC Markets in Singapore. With a number of Fed governors signaling recently that they’re leaning toward favoring a rate hike, “her words will be closely watched by the market for a clearer picture of the market outlook.” GROWTH OUTLOOK: Markets are also awaiting the latest U.S. quarterly growth figures to get a read on the health of the world’s biggest economy. Analysts expect the second of three estimates of gross domestic product, due out after Asian markets close, will be revised up to an annual 0.8 percent rate in the January-March quarter. That’s higher than the initial 0.5 percent estimate last month. Economists expect growth to rebound to about 2 percent in the current quarter and get stronger as the year progresses. CHINA CHALLENGE: Stocks in Hong Kong and mainland China struggled after disappointing data from the world’s second-biggest economy. Industrial profits rose 4.2 percent last month compared with the year-ago period, slower than the 11.1 percent increase in March, official data showed. It’s the latest sign of economic weakness in China, where growth slowed last year to a 25-year low of 6.9 percent and is expected to decelerate further this year. WALL STREET: U.S. stocks barely budged, with the Dow Jones industrial average dipping 0.1 percent to 17,828.29. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was nearly unchanged at 2,090.10. The Nasdaq composite index added 0.1 percent to 4,901.77. ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil slipped lost 31 cents to $49.17 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract slipped 8 cents to settle at $49.48 a barrel on Thursday. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, fell 41 cents to $49.76 a barrel in London. CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 109.95 yen from 109.70 yen. The euro dipped to $1.1185 from $1.1195.

National Business

Obama Japan G7 Summit-7

The Latest: G-7 wants to close gaps on fighting extremism

ISE, Japan (AP) — The latest news on the Group of Seven summit in Japan, where the leaders of the seven advanced economies are meeting for two days (all times local): 2 p.m. The G-7 summit has released an action plan for countering extremist violence to help close what it called “critical gaps” in capacity and international cooperation. Apart from backing related U.N. resolutions, the plan calls for more information sharing between G-7 countries and with Interpol. The leaders also endorsed plans to improve border security and aviation security and to tighten controls on financing of violent extremism. That includes cracking down on trading of antiquities and other works of art that sometime fund militancy. The summit statement cites gaps in the existing operational capabilities and cooperation and stressed the need to address violent extremism. noon The G-7 leaders have joined with their counterparts from seven developing countries for talks on how to ensure that economic growth is “inclusive.” Friday’s meeting at the end of the G-7 summit included the leaders of some of Asia’s poorest countries, such as Bangladesh, Laos and Papua New Guinea. Leaders from two of the region’s fastest growing economies, Vietnam and Indonesia, also participated, as did the heads of major development agencies such as the Asian Development Bank and World Bank. The president of Chad, Idriss Deby, was representing the African Union. Officials said the talks would focus on women’s empowerment, health and infrastructure and other issues related to global development. 11 a.m. The G-7 leaders have expressed their concern about territorial disputes among Asian countries in the East and South China Seas. In a communique at the end of their two-day meeting, they emphasized “the fundamental importance of peaceful management and settlement of disputes.” G-7 member Japan is embroiled in a territorial dispute with China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Japan and the U.S. have also expressed concern about China’s island-building activities in the South China Sea, where several countries have overlapping territorial claims. __ 10:30 a.m. A Japanese government spokesman says that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe bid farewell to President Barack Obama at the end of the annual Group of Seven summit meeting, as this will be Obama’s last. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroshige Seko said Friday that Abe thanked Obama for his contribution to the G-7 during his eight-year-long presidency. Obama noted that he will still be around for a while and asked their continued friendship, prompting laughs from the others, Seko said. The U.S. president leaves office early next year. __ 10:15 a.m. The leaders of the Group of Seven advanced economies have pledged to “collectively tackle” major risks to global growth, including direct political threats to the international order from terrorist attacks, violent extremism and refugee flows. G-7 leaders wrapped up their annual summit Friday with a declaration that claimed a “special responsibility” for leading international efforts to cope with those challenges. They committed to a cooperative approach in beefing up policies to stimulate and sustain growth of their sluggish economies with use of flexible spending strategies to create jobs and shore up confidence in uncertain times. 6:30 p.m. Thursday President Barack Obama says G-7 leaders are focused on the need to accelerate economic growth. Obama is speaking to reporters after the first day of meetings. He says that the leaders of the G-7 nations are intent on using all of the tools at their disposal to put people back to work and to lift wages. Obama says there are signs the economy is improving in Europe as it has gotten past the Greek debt crisis. He says the leaders are also focused on advancing free trade agreements and “pushing back against protectionism.” Obama says the leaders also touch on key security issues, particularly in the South China Sea and Ukraine. In Ukraine, there has been progress with negotiations, but there has still been too much violence. 5 p.m. The many splendored menu for the G-7 leaders’ working lunch showcases local specialties in keeping with Japan’s effort to pique appetites for its traditional products. It includes five appetizers and at least 15 vegetables, including burdock root and pickled ginger. The area where the leaders are meeting is known for its luscious, fat-marbled Matsuzaka beef, which was seared and served atop rice as sushi, along with “nigiri” made of squid, flounder, tuna and egg. A local sake was complimented by a Chardonnay from central Japan’s Nagano prefecture. The no-holds-barred effort to promote Japanese cuisine and other products is in full gear at the summit media center, where alongside elegantly presented sushi, noodles and fish, an exhibition features robots and other high technology, including some of the latest mobility devices and electric vehicles.

Japan Obama G7 Summit-7

G7 leaders pledge collective action on sagging global growth

SHIMA, Japan (AP) — The leaders of the Group of Seven rich economies pledged Friday to “collectively tackle” major risks to global growth, including direct political threats to the international order from terrorist attacks, violent extremism and refugee flows. Meeting at a seaside resort with expansive views of a scenic bay and emerald-green islands, G-7 leaders wrapped up their annual summit Friday in central Japan claiming a “special responsibility” for leading international efforts to cope with those challenges. They also committed to a cooperative approach in beefing up policies to stimulate and sustain growth of their sluggish economies. “Weak demand and unaddressed structural problems are the key factors weighing on actual and potential growth,” they said in a declaration. “We have strengthened the resilience of our economies in order to avoid falling into another crisis and to this end commit to reinforce our efforts to address the current economic by taking all appropriate policy responses in a timely manner.” “We remain committed to ensuring that growth is inclusive and job-rich, benefiting all segments of our societies,” it said. The wording of the leaders’ declaration glosses over differences on the issue of fiscal stimulus by saying each will take into account “country-specific circumstances” in committing to stronger policies to support their economies. Germany, in particular, has balked at committing to expansionary fiscal policy. In a nod to such concerns, the communique includes a reference to the need to ensure debt is “on a sustainable path.” While Japan is moving toward more public spending, and the likely postponement of a sales tax increase next year, to revive faltering growth, its own gross public debt is more than twice the size of its economy. The G-7 host, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appealed to his fellow leaders to act to avert another global crisis, comparing the current global economic situation to conditions just before the 2008 financial crisis. Vigilance is crucial for averting a relapse, he said: “We learned a lesson that we failed to respond properly because we did not have a firm recognition of the risks.” President Barack Obama backed Abe’s call, saying it was crucial not just to put people back to work but also raise wages and maintain the momentum of the recovery. “We’ve all got a lot of work to do and we agreed to continue to focus on making sure that each country, based on its particular needs and capacities, is taking steps to accelerate growth,” Obama said. G-7 countries denounced protectionism and trade barriers. They also noted the negative impact from overcapacity in some industries and government subsidies and other incentives that tend to make such problems worse. The annual summit brings together the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. It is taking place amid extraordinarily tight security around the remote summit venue, with uniformed police standing guard at close intervals on both sides of roads and randomly in forests, rice fields, soccer fields and other locations. During talks on the sideline of the summit, the U.S., EU and Japan reiterated their determination to reach agreement on various trade agreements meant to expand mutual market access. In their declaration, the summit leaders cited a possible departure of Britain from the European Union, depending on the outcome of a June 23 vote, as one of many potential shocks for the global economy. The leaders also expressed concern over territorial tensions in the East and South China seas. The declaration does not mention China and its expansion into disputed areas specifically, but calls for respecting freedom of navigation and of overflight and for resolving conflicts peacefully through law. The summit declaration also highlighted joint efforts on corruption, cybercrimes, terrorism, global health and migration — which has become a huge headache especially for European nations — as other top priorities. It said a global response was needed to cope with the surge in refugees, migrants and other displaced people to its highest level since World War II and committed to increasing assistance to meet their immediate and long-term needs. But there were no specific, concrete offers of extra help. Expanding their discussions to issues of “inclusive” growth, the group met Friday with leaders of seven developing countries. The “outreach” session invited leaders from some of Asia’s poorest countries, such as Laos and Papua New Guinea, and also some of its most dynamic emerging economies, like Vietnam and Indonesia. The president of Chad, Idriss Deby, was representing the African union, and top international leaders such as Christine Lagarde of the IMF also attended. On Friday afternoon, Obama plans to visit the peace park in Hiroshima, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to visit the city on which the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb in 1945 in the closing days of World War II. Associated Press writers Aritz Parra and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this story. Kurtenbach reported from Ise, Japan.

Hulk Hogan-Lawsuit

Tech billionaire is unlikely Hulk Hogan ally in Gawker fight

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan has an unlikely ally in his corner for his courtroom cage match with Gawker — a high-tech billionaire with a long-standing grudge against the news-and-gossip site. The vendetta has set the stage for even more bad blood to pour out between Gawker CEO Nick Denton and the vengeful billionaire, Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel, as Gawker fights for its survival. Two months after Hogan won a $140 million invasion-of-privacy verdict against Gawker for posting a sex tape of him, Thiel confirmed he covered the lawsuit’s costs after news reports identified him as the covert financier. Thiel, who co-founded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook, was outed as gay by a Gawker-owned website. The same Gawker site, Valleywag, ran a number of stories skewering Facebook, which provided a big chuck of Thiel’s estimated $2.7 billion fortune. The 2007 article about him and other articles about his friends that he said “ruined people’s lives for no reason” spurred Thiel to help fund “victims” of Gawker, he told The New York Times . “It’s less about revenge and more about specific deterrence,” he told the newspaper Wednesday. “I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest.” Gawker CEO Nick Denton counterpunched Thursday with an open letter that pilloried Thiel as a “comic-book villain” and an example of the “unaccountable power of the billionaire class.” “You show yourself as a thin-skinned billionaire who, despite all the success and public recognition that a person could dream of, seethes over criticism and plots behind the scenes to tie up his opponents in litigation he can afford better than they,” Denton wrote. The damages facing Gawker threaten to destroy the company. As part of its contingency planning, Gawker has hired an investment banker to explore its options, including a possible sale. During the Hogan trial, Gawker’s parent company, a collection of websites called Gawker Media, was estimated to be worth $83 million. Thiel didn’t respond to The Associated Press’ requests for an interview. In the Times interview, Thiel also said Hogan’s lawsuit is one of several against Gawker he has financially backed. Hogan’s attorney, Charles Harder, is also handling two separate lawsuits against Gawker, filed on behalf of Shiva Ayydurai and Ashley Terrill. Ayydurai said Thiel isn’t involved in his lawsuit, but applauded him for backing Hogan. “More power to Peter Thiel,” Ayydurai said Thursday. “He is doing a public service. He is standing behind his principles, something few people in his position do.” In a Wednesday court proceeding, Gawker’s attorneys asked the judge to allow them to seek evidence from the other side regarding Thiel’s supposed involvement. But the judge said no. In his open letter, Denton vowed to use an appeal of the Hogan verdict to subject Thiel to a “dose of transparency.” “However philanthropic your intention, and careful the planning, the details of your involvement will be gruesome,” Denton promised Thiel in his letter. As an alternative to a court battle, Denton proposed a public debate for “a more constructive exchange.” Hogan sued Gawker after it posted a 2007 video of him having sex with the wife of his best friend, Tampa radio personality Bubba The Love Sponge Clem. Hogan said Clem betrayed him by secretly videotaping him. Liedtke reported from San Francisco. Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush .

France Strikes-5

Clashes, oil blockades over France's economic future

PARIS (AP) — Volley after volley of tear gas poisoned the Paris air Thursday, as authorities struggled against nationwide strikes and a groundswell of public anger at a high-stakes government attempt to change the way France views work. Oil refineries shuttered. Nuclear were plants on hold. Dock workers hurled firecrackers. Union activists cranked up the tensions to try to force President Francois Hollande to abandon a labor bill that gives employers more flexibility and weakens the power of unions. The big question is whether Thursday’s burst of labor action fizzles out after the one-day strikes end, or inspires lasting unrest. Prime Minister Manuel Valls opened the door to possible changes in the labor bill that’s triggering all the anger — but said the government wouldn’t abandon it. Union activists said it’s too late to compromise. Posters at a protest in the port of Le Havre bore a blood red tombstone representing the bill reading: “Not amendable, not negotiable: Withdraw the El Khomri Law” — referring to Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri. The draft law, aimed at boosting hiring after a decade of nearly 10-percent unemployment and slow but corrosive economic decline, relaxes rules around the 35-hour work week and leaves workers less protected from layoffs. Determined to defend worker protections, union activists have staged months of protests and targeted the strategic fuel industry in recent days, causing gasoline shortages. The country’s two main oil ports were blocked Thursday and only two of the France’s eight refineries were working, the head of the UFIP oil industry lobby, Francis Duseux, told The Associated Press. “There could be improvements and modifications” in the bill, Valls said on BFM television Thursday. He didn’t elaborate on what might be changed, and insisted that the “heart” of the bill — Article 2, which weakens the power of unions over workplace rules — should remain. Withdrawing the bill “is not possible,” he said. Protesters took to the streets in several cities — and in Paris, met with waves of tear gas as police fought bands of violent masked marchers. Police detained 77 people as tens of thousands marched from the Bastille plaza through eastern Paris. Members of the firmly leftist CGT union, leading the protests, remain angry that the government forced the bill through the lower house of parliament without a vote because of division in the Socialist majority. “Valls is hardening his tone? Well we’re hardening our tone, too!” an organizer shouted into a loudspeaker at the Normandy Bridge, in northern France, where some 200 to 300 trade unionists and other protesters gathered to block traffic. The union activists then made their way into the port city of Le Havre, waving red flags, a percussion band leading the way. At least 10,000 dock workers and others poured into an esplanade in front of Le Havre city hall, setting off smoke bombs and threatening bystanders. They tossed powerful fireworks into the fountains, sending plumes of water rising into the air as the square reverberated with explosions. The demonstration was rowdy at times — one AP journalist was egged and the protesters pelted the mayor’s office with paint bombs — yet protesters took care to stay off the manicured lawn. One demonstrator was spotted urinating against the mayor’s office beside bright yellow graffiti reading: “Hollande, Valls, Resign.” Fabien Gloaguen, an activist with the militant Worker’s Force movement, said the government would have to back down. “He’s going to withdraw it,” Gloaguen said. Valls insisted the bill is “good for workers” and small businesses, and argued that many of its critics are ill-informed of its contents. In addition to loosening rules about the 35-hour work week, the bill makes it easier to fire workers in times of economic downturn, and weakens the power of unions to set working conditions across an entire sector. The stakes are high for both Hollande and the unions. The president is hopeful of getting re-elected next year, despite being deeply unpopular, and needs to show he has the strength to push through reforms. The unions are fighting for relevance, having lost membership in recent years. “We’re at an interesting juncture. If the movement finishes once more in failure, it might make further mobilization more complicated,” said Stephane Sirot, a historian of the French union movement at the University of Cergy-Pontoise. He said it’s been decades since a left-wing government has been confronted with a nationwide strike of this magnitude. Two months of protests escalated over the past week as unions targeted the sensitive oil industry, blocking fuel depots and refineries. The government has started using its strategic fuel reserves and forcing depots to reopen, but supplies remained spotty Thursday, with long lines and caps on purchases. Drivers endured long waits to reach gas pumps, railing at the strikes, the government and the overall funk in France. Prices have risen noticeably at gas pumps and some stations are rationing. But at the blocked Normandy Bridge, at least one pair of travelers said they didn’t mind. “It’s for us that they’re doing this,” said Jean-Luc Geraert, whose battered white van was caught behind the makeshift barricade. Geraert, a 55-year-old industrial painter, said if the government doesn’t back down soon, “it’s going to get worse.” Raphael Satter reported from Le Havre. Thomas Adamson, Milos Krivokapic and Oleg Cetinic in Paris contributed to this report.