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The BBC's Stephen Evans
"They changed the politics of the country"
 real 56k

Paul Ashley, People's Fuel Lobby
"I don't say there is no way forward"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 14 November, 2000, 17:08 GMT
Fuel protesters stay defiant
Fuel campaigners and families
Hundreds of fuel campaigners gathered for a peaceful protest
Leaders of the fuel tax protest say they are happy with the turnout in London and Edinburgh despite the numbers being lower than first estimated.

About 350 lorries, tractors and other vehicles filled the Westway in west London and another 100 drove through Edinburgh city centre on Tuesday.

A petition was delivered to Downing Street and David Handley, leader of the People's Fuel Lobby, said protests would resume again in January if their demands for lower petrol and diesel taxes were not addressed.

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Mr Handley, who said he was stepping down as chairman of the campaign group, told protesters at a rally in Hyde Park: "Drive out of here with your heads held high".

He said: "We will still keep talking with the government and we will gather again in January if they still don't listen to us."

Expired deadline

The petition comes a day after the 60-day deadline set down by the protesters after September's crippling fuel blockades.

Tuesday's protesters were met by environmental campaigners who told them it was irresponsible to ask for fuel tax cuts when the country was being inundated by flooding caused by global warming.

Road hauliers in Hyde Park
Protesters say they will be back if demands are not met

At a meeting between the protesters and MSPs in Scotland, taxi operator Graham Wilson said high fuel taxes were affecting businesses and the public alike.

He said: "This is a burden that's taking its toll on a large number of businesses that are facing closure.

"Contrary to popular belief the majority of the public are also calling for a reduction in fuel tax. They also have difficulty balancing their books."

Peaceful campaign

Police said the protests had passed peacefully, although some lorry drivers had been told to speed up on the way into London because they were causing tailbacks.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Andy Trotter said the police had developed a "very good and cordial" relationship with the protesters and they had not hindered the convoys.

The drivers were allowed to enter London after plans for an exclusion zone were abandoned when fewer lorries than expected appeared to be approaching the city.

Many London taxi drivers showed solidarity with the protesters by ferrying them to Hyde Park, where they are marching to a rally at Speaker's Corner.

Fuel protestors
The protest caused brief tailbacks
In Edinburgh, vehicles from starting points as far away as John O'Groats converged on Princes Street at lunchtime.

Many campaigners are said to have opted out of the protest following Chancellor Gordon Brown's decision to announce extra measures for the roads industry in last week's pre-Budget statement.

But the government is still refusing to bow to the People's Fuel Lobby's demands for a 26p cut in fuel tax.

The chancellor is due to meet representatives of the Road Haulage Forum, which represents 25,000 haulage companies, at 1530 GMT.

Representing road hauliers, Geoff Dunning said that while he agreed with the concerns of the protesters, he felt the mass rally was "ill-advised and the timing was wrong".

Government stands firm

A spokesman for Mr Blair repeated the government's stance that it was not going to back down on fuel tax.

He said: "The government has never wanted to pick a fight with anybody," he said.

"We have acknowledged repeatedly that the price of petrol is high and this causes particular problems, for example, for people in rural communities.

"We have done what we can, but to do more would be to start to jeopardise the extra investment the government is putting into public services."

Fuel portesters
Fuel protesters say Mr Brown has not done enough

Conservative transport spokesman Archie Norman said the numbers involved in the protest were irrelevant.

"The simmering resentment is still there," he told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme.

Mr Norman added that despite protesters calls for fuel tax to drop by 26p a litre the Tory policy of cutting it by 3p a litre was still valid.

"I am not in the business of trying to please one group or another or particular protesters," he said.

"What we are interested in is the general public who are being over taxed, taxed by stealth on fuel."

Earlier fishermen called off fuel price protests which they were planning for Tuesday in main fishing ports and on the River Thames.

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See also:

14 Nov 00 | UK
In pictures: Fuel protests
14 Nov 00 | Scotland
Protesters home in on capital
13 Nov 00 | UK
Fuel convoy rolls on
13 Nov 00 | Scotland
Wagons roll for fuel convoy
14 Nov 00 | Scotland
Protesters descend on capital
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