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Friday, 10 November, 2000, 17:41 GMT
Fuel protesters face exclusion zone
The lorry convoy heads south
The "go-slow" convoy must stick to around 50mph
Fuel tax campaigners heading for London have been warned they face an exclusion zone to prevent them entering the capital.

The People's Fuel Lobby had hoped hundreds of lorries would join the five-day journey from Tyneside but out of 70 lorries, tractors and cars involved in a warm-up drive around Newcastle, only a couple of dozen drivers agreed to head south down the A1.

We have done as much as we responsibly can

Tony Blair

The convoy has reached Ferrybridge in West Yorkshire, where the protesters plan to park for the night.

They have already been told by Prime Minister Tony Blair that no further concessions will be made following the chancellor's offer of a 1bn hand out for the haulage industry in his pre-Budget speech on Wednesday.

Police forces along the route have also taken legal action to enforce strict controls on the demonstration to keep the lorries away from flood-hit cities such as York and prevent them causing widespread disruption.

Threats of a go-slow have been countered by police warnings that anyone driving too slowly or blocking main roads and traffic could face prosecution.

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Police accompanying the drivers have been told the convoy's speed limit should be at least 50mph.

The protesters have complained at the attitude of the police, saying they were filmed by officers. One of the leaders, Andrew Spence, said despite their attempts at co-operation they had been treated "disgustingly".

He said: "All the way down the road we've had cameras pointed at us.

"The police are the ones causing the danger to the public. We've played it by their rules and now the gloves are off."

Legal protest pledge

Other drivers threatened to take the convoy straight down to London on Friday night because they were angered at their treatment by the police.

Earlier, solicitor Stephen Alexander, representing the convoy organisers, insisted the protesters would abide by the law.

"The drive to London is not meant to be disruptive," he said.

"The people are coming to London to give a message and are coming from all parts of the UK. Therefore they will do so lawfully, legally and, I hope, safely."

Tractors joined the start of the lorry protest
But Welsh farmer Brynle Williams, who led fuel protests in September, says he fears the convoy and accompanying protests next week will prove counter-productive, costing the protesters public sympathy and support.

"I would like to see the convoy stop now, and hopefully the drivers would go home and then they would set about their politicians, lobbying," he said.

The campaign suffered a further blow as fishermen planning to stage their own fuel protest on Tuesday with a flotilla of boats on the River Thames called off their demonstration pending a meeting with Agriculture Minister Nick Brown.

Environmental groups Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, who believe that fuel taxes need to be kept high to discourage excessive car usage, have promised to put pressure on the drivers.

Green machines

Teams of Greenpeace volunteers plan to meet the truckers at each stop to make the case for high fuel taxes and promote alternative fuels.

Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens said police would set up checkpoints around London to prevent the lorry drivers entering the capital on Tuesday when thousands of fuel demonstrators are expected to rally at Hyde Park.

The exclusion zone and the low turn out were further blows to the convoy organisers who were asked by civic leaders on South Tyneside not to start their convoy in Jarrow as they feared it would tarnish the memory of the famous marchers who walked to London in 1936 in their fight against poverty.

The convoy is heading for Leeds and then Manchester on Saturday; Stoke and Birmingham on Sunday; Northampton and Milton Keynes on Monday; before reaching London on Tuesday for a mass rally.

The convoy follows a 60-day moratorium laid down by the protesters after the September oil refinery blockades.

Last time the fuel protesters demonstrated in the capital there was traffic chaos, and their nationwide blockades brought much of the country to a standstill.

Shadow transport minister Bernard Jenkin said he was pleased the protests were limited but warned it did not mean the public agreed with government policy.

He said: "This whole episode will leave British people with a deep and abiding resentment for what Labour has done."

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The BBC's Robert Hall
"Questions remain as to whether the protest can reach its' finally"



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10 Nov 00 | Scotland
10 Nov 00 | UK Politics
09 Nov 00 | UK Politics
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