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John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister
"We cannot and will not accept the kind of chaos that seems to be developing in some parts of the country"
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The BBC's John Pienaar
"There's not much credit to be won here but an awful lot that can be lost politically"
 real 56k

The BBC's Richard Bilton
"The state of supplies is clear, with filling stations standing empty"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 12 September, 2000, 13:55 GMT 14:55 UK
Blair turns heat on oil industry
Fuel crisis
Panic buying is causing fuel to run out more quickly
The government has put the onus on oil companies to ensure fuel supplies as protests cause mounting chaos across the UK.

Speaking outside Downing Street at lunchtime on Tuesday, Minister for Transport and the Regions John Prescott said Prime Minister Tony Blair remained convinced that oil could be properly distributed.

He said: "We cannot and will not accept the chaos which seems to be developing across the country, where emergency services are being denied to the people.

"We are looking at all possible contingencies in this matter to see that normal services are resumed."

Mr Prescott said the prime minister was now talking directly to oil companies to ensure they understood their responsibilities.

He maintained that continuing pickets and blockades would not persuade the government to make "rash decisions" regarding fuel taxation.

"What we have in this country is a proper forum to negotiate these matters - it's called the political process - and indeed we are not prepared to succumb to the kind of French situation we have seen in the past few weeks," he said.

We cannot and will not accept the chaos which seems to be developing

John Prescott
He did not say whether emergency powers would be invoked at this stage.

Mr Prescott's comments came after Tony Blair called an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the mounting fuel crisis.

Tax figures which have enraged campaigners

The Prime Minister arrived back in London late on Tuesday morning after cancelling a regional tour of the north.

On Monday, the Privy Council and the Queen approved the use by the government of emergency powers to ensure the flow of fuel to "priority users" such as health services, schools and public transport.

As the protests entered their sixth day, as many as 3,000 petrol stations were closed and the whole country began to feel the pressure.

Panic buying of fuel continued amid claims that there would be no fuel anywhere in the country within 48 hours.

Emergency services were reaching crisis point with non-emergency operations in many hospitals around Britain being cancelled.

Public transport hit

Many ambulances and fire crews have also been put on emergency only duties.

Police moved in to clear a lorry blockade at the Wymondham oil terminal in Norfolk.

Public transport also began to feel the effects of the crisis on Tuesday, as South West Trains curtailed its London Waterloo to Paignton, south Devon service and its service from Brighton to Reading.

Will we back down? Never

Brynle Williams
Both routes were cut short to conserve fuel, a spokesperson for the company said.

The protesters have vowed to continue their campaign until the government acts.

Protest spokesperson, Brynle Williams, said: "Tony Blair has made a gross mistake and has grossly underestimated the will of the country.

"He had the power to call an emergency Cabinet meeting today, to put pen to paper and put a stop to this.

"Will we back down? Never."

Safety concerns

Oil companies have said that, even though some depots are not completely blockaded, they will not allow their lorry drivers to leave the terminals until their safety can be guaranteed.

Police have succeeded in securing limited access for some drivers at many sites, but concerns for safety remain high.

A spokesperson for Shell said: "For us the issue has always been the safety of our drivers.

Fuel crisis
Protesting Welsh farmers at the Shell oil refinery in Cheshire
"They have said they don't feel comfortable, that they don't feel safe.

The Conservatives have accused the government of bringing the situation upon themselves.

Party chairman Michael Ancram said: "It is the government's duty and responsibility to ensure that fuel is distributed around the country, but also to begin to deal with the very real problems which have given rise to this protest.

"The price of petrol has gone up by 33% since the election and the government cannot claim that this has come on them by surprise."

Meanwhile, much of western Europe has also been brought to a standstill by protests against high fuel prices.

Belgian drivers have kept Brussels under siege for a third day and in the Netherlands protesters caused rush-hour chaos as they blocked two major tunnels on roads near Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

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See also:

12 Sep 00 | Health
Fuel protest bites on NHS
12 Sep 00 | Business
Brown defends fuel policy
12 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Demands for recall of Parliament
11 Sep 00 | Business
World 'faces oil crisis'
12 Sep 00 | Europe
Fuel crisis grips Europe
12 Sep 00 | Wales
Fuel crisis in Wales deepens
11 Sep 00 | Scotland
Fuel protest traffic chaos
12 Sep 00 | Northern Ireland
Unions consider fuel price action
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