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Page last updated at 22:54 GMT, Monday, 9 June 2008 23:54 UK

Spanish hauliers on fuel strike

A policeman tries to keep a lane open as lorries move in to block the M-40 ring road in the Spanish capital, Madrid, 9 June 2008
The strike has caused tailbacks 10km long around the Spanish capital

Tens of thousands of Spanish lorry drivers have begun an indefinite strike over the soaring price of diesel, which has risen by 20% this year.

After stopping work at midnight on Sunday, many disrupted traffic at the border between Spain and France.

A number of lorries crossing the picket lines had their windscreens broken, lights ripped out and tyres slashed.

The government is preparing a package to assist the sector, with emergency loans and more flexible contracts.

It would also offer cash payments to older lorry drivers who are willing to retire.

French fishermen from Mediterranean ports have, meanwhile, joined fleets from other French ports in suspending their action pending an EU summit in Brussels later this month.

Wide support

Overnight, about 200 lorry drivers parked their vehicles beside roadside toll booths in the Catalonian town of La Jonquera, close to the border with France.

There's been no hostility and it is rather good-natured
James Barber
English driver stuck in Spain

The protesters prevented other lorries from passing, and caused delays to car traffic.

Hundreds of lorry drivers also staged "snail protests" on the ring roads around the capital, Madrid, and Barcelona. There have also been protests in the Basque country and Valencia.

Petrol stations around Madrid and in the north-eastern Catalonia region are already said to be running short of fuel.

Most of the 90,000 hauliers participating in the strike are self-employed, or working for small and medium-sized haulage companies, and they have warned that many supermarkets will run out of goods within days.

"We are the ones who move the goods that this country needs to keep working," the head of the transport association federation Fenadismer, Julio Villascusa, told Cadena SER radio.

"If we stop because we haven't got the money to buy fuel then the country will stop."

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Spanish hauliers' fuel strike

The president of another drivers' trade union, Adetec, said many of its small-scale hauliers were going bankrupt.

"We have no more solutions. We can't afford diesel any more. It's as simple as that," Jean-Claude Ferrand told Spanish national radio.

The lorry drivers are receiving support from counterparts in Portugal and southern France, who also disrupted the flow of traffic along one of the main routes into Spain.

However, Spain's largest hauliers' trade union is not taking part.

EUROPEAN FUEL PROTESTS
map
Belgium: Fishermen clash with police at protest near EU on 4 June
Bulgaria:150 lorry drivers form convoy outside Sofia on 28 May
France: Lorries and taxis block motorway in Paris on 3 May in support of strike by fishermen
Italy: Fishermen on both coasts begin strike on 30 May
Portugal: Portuguese fishermen stay in port on 30 May
Spain: Spanish fleet begins strike on 30 May. Madrid fishermen hand out 20 tonnes of free fish to public
UK: Truck drivers block London roads on 28 May. Fishermen hold mass protest in capital on 3 June

The drivers want the Spanish government to establish, by law, a minimum price for their services, and to ensure that haulage contracts better reflect the fluctuating cost of fuel, which has risen by more than 20% since the start of the year.

But the BBC's Steve Kingstone in Madrid says that with inflation at an 11-year high, the government is reluctant to approve a minimum price for the work of lorry drivers - fearing that the additional costs would immediately filter through to other sectors of the economy.

Instead ministers are proposing a mixture of short-term funds and long-term restructuring for the haulage industry.

On Monday the government said there was a "reasonable chance" of a deal by midweek, our correspondent reports.

The hauliers' action follows the lead of Spanish and French fishermen, many of whom have been on strike because of the soaring price of fuel.

The fishermen have said they will go out of business unless the EU allows national governments to give them more financial aid and subsidise maritime diesel.

However, the EU has insisted that any fuel subsidies would be illegal under European law and unsustainable in the long term.


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