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The BBC's Judith Moloney
"Protestors are maintaining their pickets throughout Britain"
 real 56k

The BBC's Justin Webb
"This is fast becoming a Europe wide phenomenon"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 13 September, 2000, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
Europe fuel protests escalate
Truck blockade
The main link between Belgium and Germany is blocked
Belgian lorry drivers have stepped up their protests against high fuel prices by blockading the port of Antwerp, the second largest in Europe.

All major roads to the port are reported blocked and dock officials are warning that if the blockade lasts for a couple of days, the effects could be "catastrophic".

Roadblocks have been set up on motorways across the country, and the streets of the Belgian capital, Brussels, remained virtually empty on Wednesday as truckers took their protests there into a fourth day.

The blockades, which have now spread to several other European countries, follow the action of French road hauliers who last week forced their government to reduce fuel taxes after a week of action.

Belgian truck blockade
Belgian truckers are blocking roads near the Dutch border
In the UK, where thousands of petrol stations have run dry, some fuel tankers left refineries on Wednesday morning mainly to supply emergency services, but most stations remain closed.

A European Union delegation is due to meet foreign ministers from six oil producing countries on Wednesday to discuss ways of resolving the crisis.

In the Netherlands, truck drivers are continuing to block several major routes following the rejection of fuel price cuts by the Dutch Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm.

And German truck drivers and farmers are staging fresh protests around Munich.

Other action is beginning to extend as far as Poland, where truck drivers and fishermen have warned they intend to block oil refineries and ports.


Drivers angry

Despite Germany having some of the lowest fuel prices in Europe, drivers are angry at Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's policy of additional fuel "ecology taxes".

German farmers
German farmers threaten to 'gatecrash' political meetings
German farmers have also announced their intention to 'gatecrash' political meetings around the country, including high-profile events attended by Mr Schroeder.

In Belgium, talks are continuing between union leaders and the government amid signs the two sides may be nearing an agreement, which could lead to the lifting of the blockade.

However, the government has so far refused to consider lowering high fuel prices, the trucker's central demand, and is instead offering a series of measures designed to soften their impact.

Concerns

Belgian protesters say they will keep their barricades in place for as long as it takes to force their government to climb down.

"One week, two weeks, three weeks - no problem," said one protesting driver.

The Belgian Government is due to decide what to do about the protests at a meeting on Wednesday.

Empty road in Belgium
Belgium has ground to a halt
Meanwhile, the European Commission has written to the Belgian authorities expressing its concerns that the blockade is harming trade within the European Union.

The Commission fears the blockades are restricting the movement of goods, and that German truckers' and farmers' threats to step up their action could worsen the situation.

Protests spread

The protests also seem set to spread further, with truckers and farmers in Spain and Ireland threatening similar action over high fuel prices.


A European Union delegation will discuss ways of stabilising oil prices when they meet foreign ministers of the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council, including biggest crude producer Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday.

France is also calling for a meeting of European transport ministers next week to discuss the possibility of harmonising fuel prices and taxes.

"People must understand that these problems are complicated, and have to be solved together," said Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

French authorities are also working on a comprehensive energy saving plans in response to the surge in world oil prices.

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See also:

13 Sep 00 | Europe
Bruxelloise find their feet
13 Sep 00 | Europe
German fuel row turns political
12 Sep 00 | Europe
In pictures: Going nowhere fast
13 Sep 00 | Europe
European press review
11 Sep 00 | Europe
France looks for energy savings
11 Sep 00 | UK
Fuel price cut ruled out
05 Sep 00 | Europe
Europe faces fuel dilemma
11 Sep 00 | Business
Oil price bounces back
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