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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"
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The BBC's Russel Hayes
"Some firms have had to lay off staff"
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Tuesday, 12 September, 2000, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
Blair turns heat on oil industry

Some have taken to alternative methods to beat the blockade
Oil companies are coming under pressure from Prime Minister Tony Blair to ensure fuel supplies get through, as fuel price protests cause mounting chaos across the UK.

As the oil companies gave a lukewarm response to the call, Chancellor Gordon Brown reiterated the government's tough line against the protesters.

We will not fall for the quick fix and the irresponsible short-termism of making tax policy this afternoon because of blockades this morning."

Chancellor Gordon Brown

Speaking at the TUC conference in Glasgow, Mr Brown said: "We will listen, but we will not fall for the quick fix and the irresponsible short-termism of making tax policy this afternoon because of blockades this morning."

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

However, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said Mr Blair remained convinced fuel 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."

Fuel protest map

But a spokeswoman for oil giant Texaco said: "The campaign is against the government, it's a government taxation issue - it [the government] is not addressing what the protesters want."

BP, which says its tanker drivers will only deliver supplies with a police officer in the cab, protested that they had asked for police protection but it had not been supplied.

The Association of Chief Police Officers, which met the government for emergency talks on whether to use force to break the blockades, said their "main objective" was to help oil trucks get through.

Emergency meeting

But police forces around the country say they are unable to act to clear pickets at fuel refineries and depots because protesters are not breaking the law.

Tony Blair cancelled a regional tour of the north to co-ordinate government responses to the crisis and attend an emergency cabinet meeting.

It is still not clear if and when the government will invoke special powers approved on Monday by the Privy Council and the Queen to ensure the flow of fuel to "priority users" such as health services, schools and public transport.

Fuel crisis
Protesting Welsh farmers at the Shell oil refinery in Cheshire
The effects of the fuel crisis are being felt across all sectors of the UK.

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

For the first time, public transport began to feel the pinch with South West Trains curtailing some services to conserve fuel.

The fuel protesters have been urged to end the "anarchy" by Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, which represents tanker drivers.

"We urge the protesters to remove the blockades and allow our members to resume deliveries, so that essential services, industry and the public are not victimised by the protests, which are not of their making," he said.

Tax figures which have enraged campaigners

But protest spokesperson Brynle Williams said: "Tony Blair has made a gross mistake and has grossly underestimated the will of the country. Will we back down? Never."

Meanwhile, the impact of the crisis has been reflected by one of the biggest ever e-mail responses to BBC News Online, with nearly 6,000 members of the public offering their opinions to Talking Point.

Supporters of the action include Daniel Fox, who said "keep up the work guys - the government has to listen at some point".

Others, such as Daniel Rafferty from Wales, argued: "Blair has the power to lower fuel prices but must not yield in the face of pressure".

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See also:

12 Sep 00 | Health
Fuel protest bites on NHS
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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