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The BBC's Jane Bennett-Powell
"Panic buying was exacerbating the supply problem"
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The BBC's Simon Jones
"The protests against high oil prices are growing across Europe"
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The BBC's John Kampfner
"The government hopes that it has its contingencies in place"
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Tuesday, 12 September, 2000, 01:58 GMT 02:58 UK
Action on vital fuel supplies
Petrol pumps out of use
Panic buying means supplies are quickly running dry
The government is preparing to use emergency powers to tackle the growing fuel crisis.

Hundreds of petrol stations have already run dry and two thirds of the country's oil refineries remain blockaded by lorry drivers and farmers.

The Privy Council and the Queen have sanctioned the use, if necessary, of contingency powers to control the distribution of fuel across the UK.

The aim is to make sure that fuel supplies continue to get through to "priority users" such as health services, schools and public transport.

Liverpool taxi drivers protest
Liverpool taxi drivers staged a rush hour protest
The move came after Energy Minister Helen Liddell met the Queen at Balmoral on Monday, a spokeswoman for the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said.

Secretary of State for Industry Stephen Byers said: "It is important that vital services are maintained.

"The government has therefore invoked powers under the Energy Act 1976 as a prudent and precautionary measure."

The DTI spokeswoman said the situation would be monitored on Tuesday before a decision would be taken on whether to invoke the contingency powers.

Blair's car attacked

The Cabinet's civil contingency committee decided not to use troops, but the option remains open.

As fuel tax protesters continue to blockade oil refineries, garages across the UK are running out of petrol.

Firms running dry
Shell: 330 of 1,100 garages around the country shut.
Texaco: One third of 957 stations nationwide almost empty or completely dry.
TotalFinaElf: Between 30% and 40% of 1,400 garages running short.
Esso: More than 350 out of 1,600 filling stations run dry.
Panic buying by motorists across the country has increased the pressure on fuel supplies.

Prime Minister Tony Blair held emergency talks with police and oil companies and urged drivers not to aggravate the situation by stockpiling fuel, insisting supplies would be kept moving.

Amid speculation over what the role of the police should be in the protests, Norfolk police moved in at 0515 BST to restore access to the fuel depot at Wymondham.

Mr Blair has insisted he will not give in to the protests, despite an incident in which protesters attacked his official car.

Two demonstrators tried to block the Jaguar and banged on the bonnet as Mr Blair left Hull City Hall on Monday evening.

Mr Blair has blamed the rise in fuel prices on the increase in world oil prices which had gone from $10 to $30 a barrel in recent months.

"The sensible way, indeed the only right way, to deal with this problem is to put pressure on Opec itself, not to let them off the hook by caving in to blockades here," he said on Monday.

Notice telling customers they can only buy 5 worth of petrol
Running dry: Petrol rationing at one York garage
Sir John Evans, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, and Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall, said on Monday night he was confident that police could handle fuel protests in a "firm but fair fashion".

"We will respect both the right of individuals to protest while at the same time ensuring that industry and private citizens are allowed to go about their lawful business with minimum disruption," he said.

The north west of England has been the worst hit region so far, with the Stanlow Shell Oil Refinery at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire blockaded since Thursday night.

On Monday, some 130 filling stations out of 250 in the region had run out of petrol, and the region could run completely dry on Tuesday.

Many parts of Wales, including Cardiff and Swansea, are also likely to have no petrol by early Tuesday, as blockades continue at refineries in Milford Haven and Pembroke Dock, and a Texaco distribution centre in Cardiff.

Several hospitals in Wales cancelled routine surgery. The All Wales Ambulance Trust also suspended non-emergency work.

Meanwhile, a 62-year-old motorist collapsed and died while waiting in a queue for petrol in south east Wales.

Anthony Probert was believed to have suffered a heart attack while waiting for fuel at Llanfoist, near Abergavenny.

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See also:

11 Sep 00 | Business
World 'faces oil crisis'
12 Sep 00 | Europe
Fuel protests build across Europe
12 Sep 00 | Wales
Fuel crisis in Wales deepens
11 Sep 00 | Scotland
Fuel protest traffic chaos
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