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The BBC's Jon Sopel
"At least the end does appear to be in sight"
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The BBC's Claire Doole in Paris
"Lionel Jospin must be a very relieved prime minister"
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Sunday, 10 September, 2000, 04:28 GMT 05:28 UK
France refuels after protests
Fuel queues in France
Cars could soon be on the move
A major operation is underway to refuel petrol stations in France after a six-day protest over the rising cost of fuel dried up supplies at filling stations.

As trucks, farm tractors and ambulances dismantled barricades and moved from main fuel depots and refineries, oil tankers moved in to start the refuelling operations.

The interior ministry has lifted the weekend ban on heavy-goods traffic to speed up the process.

Our action has helped draw the attention of the authorities... to the dramatic consequences of an over-high rise in the price of oil products

Luc Guyau, farmers' union leader

The operations will centre around major cities, where oil companies say they hope to bring fuel supplies to normal by the end of the weekend.

By late Saturday the blockaded fuel depots had reduced from about 100 to about 15.

"The retreat is accelerating," an interior ministry spokesman told Reuters.

The six-days of blockades in France left 80% of petrol stations in France without fuel.

Change of mind

The move to lift the crippling blockades came after a second truck owners' federation told its members to end the protest against diesel prices.

The last major transport union to end its protest was Unostra, which represents small haulage firms.

Fuel being delivered under guard
There are severe shortages of fuel in many parts of the country

Earlier, leaders of the two main agriculture unions said they obtained important concessions from the government, including a significant cut in fuel taxes.

A BBC correspondent in Paris says the end of the blockade came as the unions became aware of the impact of the petrol shortages on businesses.

European concerns

The retreat will be a major relief to Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who has faced coalition difficulties with his partners the Greens over the protest.

Chart showing diesel prices

But correspondents say the concessions will cost the French government about $640m.

EU ministers, meeting at Versailles, just outside Paris, said oil prices had to fall if the world economy is to keep on growing at its current rate.

French Finance Minister Laurent Fabius, who chaired the EU talks, said he hoped Opec would decide at its meeting on Sunday in Vienna to bring down oil prices, which have tripled since December 1998.

He warned failure to do so could undermine the global economy.

"Any measure that knocks Western economies off balance will sooner or later have a negative impact on the producers," he said.

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See also:

08 Sep 00 | Europe
Trapped Britons plan 'escape'
08 Sep 00 | Europe
Jospin's coalition crisis
07 Sep 00 | Business
Oil price eases back
06 Sep 00 | Europe
Analysis: A very French blockade
08 Sep 00 | Business
Opec crisis meeting looms
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