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The BBC's Paul Anderson
"The impact of this protest is everywhere to see"
 real 56k

Thursday, 14 September, 2000, 00:23 GMT 01:23 UK
Europe's leaders hold firm
Rotteramse straat
Rotterdam's orbital motorway was completely blocked
Fuel protests are continuing across Europe, as governments refuse to make concessions on fuel taxes demanded by lorry drivers.

Hasty tax policies can do nothing to change things

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
In Belgium, government officials and unions talked into the early hours of Thursday to try and prevent a fifth day of blockades at the country's refineries, roads and border crossings.

The government offered compensation to lorry drivers, including cuts in social security payments, but there is no sign of an early agreement.

In Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has defended fuel taxes as vital to his government's policy of cutting unemployment.

"Hasty tax policies can do nothing to change things," he told parliament, and said that only 8% of recent price rises on fuel were due to taxation, with the rest caused by rising world oil prices.


Belgium's employers' federation said the protest were costing the country's economy BFr10bn ($215m) a day.

Brussels road
Many Brussels roads have been left to pedestrians
TotalFinaElf, Belgium's main petrol supplier, said that only 20% of normal deliveries were getting through the blockades.

Belgian lorry drivers blockaded the port of Antwerp, the second largest in Europe.

Roadblocks have been set up on motorways across the country, and the streets of the Belgian capital, Brussels, remained virtually empty on Wednesday.

With diesel prices going up again on Thursday to BFr37.70 ($ 0.80) a litre, lorry drivers are demanding government action to cut taxes by BFR1.87 ($0.04) on every litre.

The move is opposed by the ruling coalition, which is partly made up of ecological parties.

In Germany, tax cuts are opposed by the government because the so-called ecological tax on fuel is paying for a reduction in employers pension insurance contributions.

Reducing the cost of labour and thereby boosting the labour market has been a key policy of Chancellor Schroeder's government.


Belgian-Dutch border at Stein
Traffic at the Belgian-Dutch at Stein came to a standstill
Elsewhere in Europe, protests have continued with lorry drivers in the Netherlands blocking several major routes following the rejection of fuel price cuts by the Dutch Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair vowed not to cave in to nationwide protests, but only relatively few tankers moved on Wednesday, with drivers saying they feared retaliation from protesters if they delivered fuel.

UK business leaders said the crisis was costing British firms up to 250m ($352m) a day.

In Ireland, lorry drivers are planning a day of strikes and protests for Friday, after the government rejected a demand to cut diesel tax by a third.

In Spain, farmers are talking to government representatives, with demonstrations planned for next week.

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