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Tuesday, 12 September, 2000, 11:40 GMT 12:40 UK
Blockades illegal, ministers warn
Fuel tankers
Ministers want the tankers moving
Ministers are standing firm against protesters blockading fuel depots, warning that their action is illegal and could threaten lives.

Tony Blair insists he will not give in and cut the price of petrol, despite pressure from farmers, truckers and the Conservatives.


Unlawful protests and blockades... will quickly harm people's lives and bring life-saving services to a halt

Peter Mandelson
The government has won the backing of union leaders, who have urged protesters to end their blockades because of the damage being caused to the economy.

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson joined the row, warning people could be hurt because of the action.

In Portadown, Co Armagh, he said: "One thing the government cannot do is to start capitulating in the face of unlawful protests and blockades of this nature which will very quickly harm people's lives and bring life-saving services to a halt."

'Protecting democracy'

And Home Secretary Jack Straw said capitulating to the protests would be "the clearest possible message that we had abandoned parliamentary democracy".

farmers in tractor
Farmers stage a sit-down protest
Mr Straw held talks with the President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir John Evans, on how police could best deal with the blockades.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott told the oil companies it was their responsibility to ensure fuel supplies get to garage forecourts.

Mr Prescott, emerging from crisis talks with the prime minister and other cabinet colleagues, said: "We are making it clear to the oil companies and we have been briefed by the police that is possible to distribute the oil.

"It is their responsibility and that is what we are making clear at this present point in time."

Chancellor Gordon Brown also signalled a firm stand against the protests.

He told the TUC Congress in Glasgow the government was determined to make sure that oil flowed from terminals to petrol stations without interruptions from blockades or barricades.

'Start co-operating'

Union leaders said the protesters had made their point.

Sir Ken Jackson, general secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, said: "They should accept that they have made their point and start to co-operate in ensuring that supplies of petrol get back to stations.

"They have to understand the damage being caused to the economy. But the government should also take note of the protest and make sure that their long-term goal is to reduce costs on industry."

John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB union, said: "Ministers must not allow themselves to bow to these demonstrations by small businessmen and Tory supporters who were first to condemn the union movement."

Ultimatum idea

Bill O'Brien, Labour member of the transport select committee, called on ministers to issue oil companies with an ultimatum - get supplies moving in 24 hours or see them seized by the government.

He accused fuel bosses of cynically exploiting the crisis in a bid to increase profits.

Fuel companies say they are not ordering their employees back to work for safety reasons.

The prime minister has insisted he will not give in to the protests, saying: "That's not the way to make policy in Britain and as far as I'm concerned it never will be."

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See also:

12 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Fuel crisis tests Blair's leadership
12 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Demands for recall of Parliament
12 Sep 00 | Europe
Fuel protests build across Europe
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