Page last updated at 17:58 GMT, Thursday, 12 June 2008 18:58 UK

Spain's PM warns striking drivers

Police escort lorries on highway in northern Spain - 12/6/2008
Most of Spain's lorry drivers have reached a deal with the government

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has promised "zero tolerance" of violence or other disruptions by striking lorry drivers.

A driver breaking the strike over rising fuel prices was badly burnt when his lorry was set on fire.

The government has reached agreement with most of Spain's hauliers on relief from rising fuel prices but about 12% are continuing a fourth day of strikes.

Spanish police have escorted thousands of lorries to their destinations.

On late Wednesday police removed protesters from two border crossings with France and cleared drivers' blockades from main roads.

"The situation is normal on all roads," the interior ministry said.

Spanish police have arrested 71 lorry drivers since the strike began Monday.

In Portugal, lorry drivers agreed to lift their road blocks after their union reached a deal with the government over assistance with rising fuel prices.

Rate demand

Spain's measures, agreed with unions representing 88% of Spain's lorry drivers, envisage tax relief and emergency credit among other things.

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Hauliers' unions had called off negotiations with the government after a lorry driver was run over and killed on Tuesday while manning a picket line in Granada.

Drivers continuing the strike want a minimum price for their services to prevent firms from being undercut.

The government has refused this, saying it would interfere with competition and contravene European Union regulations.

"Those 12% can work or not work..." said Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba.

"But what they cannot do is prevent the rest from working."

More than 6,000 trucks have been given escorts to deliver food, fuel and other supplies to markets and distribution centres, the interior ministry said.

There have been shortages at Madrid's main produce markets and several car factories are reported to be idle because parts have not been delivered.

Prime Minister Zapatero urged the remaining strikers to "join in the task of acting responsibly" and promised tough action if their protests turn violent.

"The government is going to have zero tolerance for any act of intimidation or violence," he said.

In Portugal, the government granted the strikers tax relief and reduced motorway tolls for lorry drivers.

Protesters were asking for a special diesel rate and the levelling-out of fuel prices with neighbouring Spain, where diesel is cheaper.

A representative of the Portuguese strikers said all blockades were being lifted and all lorries would be able to move with no problems.

Oil prices have risen by about 40% since the beginning of the year to hit a record high of more than $139 (71.5) per barrel last week.

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