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The BBC's Francesca Kasteliz
"There are now signs that the blockades are being dealt with"
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The BBC's John Pienaar
"A poll for the BBC indicates that nearly 80% of people back the protest"
 real 56k

Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer
"We are not going to make decisions based on the volatility of the oil price"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 13 September, 2000, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
Fuel supplies trickle through
Fuel protests
Police have overseen the movement of tankers
Fuel tankers have begun to roll through protest lines around the country - but it could take up to three weeks before garage forecourts get back to normal.

Tankers left five major depots around the country on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning under police protection, with more expected throughout the day.

But most of the UK's filling stations remain closed, with many people unable to get to work.

Prime Minister Tony Blair met oil company executives and police chiefs on Wednesday in an effort to hasten the end of the crisis.

Schools have begun closing and the health service says it's struggling to cope.

It looks like the end's about to come

Protest leader Brynle Williams
Eight tankers left the Stanlow oil refinery in Cheshire - where the protests began last week - without the agreement of protesters and under police escort.

Stanlow protest leader Brynle Williams told reporters: "It looks like the end's about to come."

But Petrol Retailers' Association spokesman Ray Holloway warned it could take three weeks before the situation returns to normal.

Police out in force

Police have been stepping up their presence around the country to enable more tankers to pass through the blockades.

Sir John Evans of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) said after the Downing Street meeting: "We are geared up to ensure the free flow and movement of oil tankers. As barriers build we remove them."

He said that there had been an issue raised about possible intimidation of tanker drivers, and police had agreed to provide an officer in cabs where necessary.

On the whole, protests had been peaceful, he added.

Essex Police said they were expecting a "steady stream" of fuel tankers to leave the Esso terminal at Purfleet, the BP terminal and Coryton and other terminals in Essex.

Two tankers with emergency fuel were allowed to leave the Shell UK depot at Jarrow, Tyne & Wear, on Wednesday morning.

Fifteen lorries left the Milford Haven refinery in Pembrokeshire, west Wales.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair: Meeting oil executives
Each of the lorries had been checked by protesters as to where they were going and what they contained.

A spokesman for the protesters, Philip Knight, who runs a haulage business in Ammanford, west Wales, said: "Tony Blair is claiming this as a victory but he is out of sync with reality... this is not over yet."

Poll boost for protesters

In a telephone poll carried out for the BBC by ICM, 78% of a sample of 514 adults said they supported the protesters' action. That figure dropped to 36% if essential services were adversely affected.

The poll was carried out on Tuesday 12 September, with most interviews conducted after Mr Blair said the situation should be "on the way back to normal" by Wednesday evening.

Mr Blair insisted at a Downing Street press conference the government could not "possibly, responsibly" introduce an emergency budget to alter taxes on fuel.

Instead, it invoked emergency powers to try to end the crisis.

Tanker convoys

On Wednesday police at BP Grangemouth, site of Scotland's only oil refinery, were receiving reinforcements from the neighbouring Lothian and Borders force to prepare for what looked set to be a massive exercise to ensure more fuel tankers were let through.

Empty garages
Shell: 1,070 out of 1,100
Texaco: 1,200 out of 1,500
Esso: 850 out of 1,600
BP: 1,000 out of 1,500

The effects of the fuel crisis have been felt far and wide.

Vital roads normally gridlocked with rush hour traffic were quiet as drivers either left their vehicles at home and used public transport, or took the day off, according to the AA.

In Wales, many schools are facing closure, and some non-essential hospital operations have been cancelled.

London was also threatened with gridlock as a convoy of around 100 lorries headed into the city towards Parliament Square to stage a protest.

Fuel crisis
Pedal power: one option for motorists
In the north, a flotilla of between 20 and 30 fishing boats was planning to sail along the river Tyne towards as part of the protest over fuel tax, departing from North Shields fish quay at 9.30 BST.

Health chiefs have warned the fuel shortages were putting patients' lives at risk in what Conservatives dubbed Black Tuesday.

Panic buying is also spreading from fuel to food as consumers fearing the worst stocked up on essentials and the Royal Mail warned it only had supplies for one more day of deliveries in some areas.

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See also:

13 Sep 00 | Business
Fuel crisis hits businesses
13 Sep 00 | Business
Protester hits Opec website
13 Sep 00 | Europe
Europe fuel protest rolls on
13 Sep 00 | Health
NHS pressures to continue
13 Sep 00 | Other Sports
Sport hit by fuel crisis
13 Sep 00 | Business
TUC warns on fuel crisis
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