Fuel Protests Spread Across Europe

Monday, September 11th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LONDON (AP) — The British and German governments said they would not give in to demonstrators who snarled traffic and blockaded refineries Monday to protest high fuel prices, and an OPEC decision to boost production did little to curb the demonstrators' anger.

``We cannot and we will not alter government policy on petrol through blockades and pickets,'' British Prime Minister Tony Blair said.

Truckers, taxi drivers, farmers, tour operators and others who claim that high oil prices are hurting their businesses, continued their protests in Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany.

Blair and German Transport Minister Reinhard Klimmt said their countries would not follow the example of France, which agreed to demands to subsidize fuel prices. Protests continued in scattered French cities, despite government concessions.

``The sensible way, the only right way to deal with this problem, is to put pressure on OPEC,'' Blair said.

For European motorists, a gallon of unleaded gasoline can cost more than $4 per gallon, a far higher price than in the United States.

A decision by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to raise production by 800,000 barrels a day, announced Monday, had no immediate impact on the protests, although it did send October contracts of North Sea Brent crude down 45 cents at $32.33 a barrel on the International Petroleum Exchange in London.

The German government also resisted the pressure.

``I see no reason at the moment why we should compensate for this through taxation,'' Klimmt, the transport minister, told ARD television.

The protests disrupted traffic across Britain, particularly in the north of the country. British farmers and truckdrivers, who began staking out main refineries on Thursday, blockaded the Conoco refinery in Lincolnshire county in eastern England and the nearby Lindsey refinery, and were planning to obstruct rush hour traffic in the northern city of Leeds.

In northern England alone, about 200 gas stations were closed Monday, their supplies blocked, according to the Petrol Retailers' Association. Gas companies said to expect roughly 2,000 gas stations to run dry by Tuesday. Some ambulance companies in Wales and northern England canceled all but emergency service to conserve fuel supplies.

``More and more people are joining us all the time,'' said Nigel Kime, spokesman for British Hauliers United. ``We plan to affect major roads and are making sure all the areas where the fuel is are targeted.''

Truckers, taxi drivers and tour bus operators in Belgium expanded protests Monday, blocking the country's largest oil refinery and main arteries in the capital. Several hundred truck drivers continued to jam main roads leading to downtown Brussels.

Some 20 trucks also moved in to cut access to the country's largest oil refinery south of Brussels, near the city of Charleroi.

Talks between trucker federations and Belgian Transport Minister Isabelle Durant to end the protest broke up without an agreement to give truckers a fuel tax rebate to compensate the high diesel prices.

In the Netherlands, several dozen truck drivers blocked a major freeway Monday in the first Dutch protest of high fuel prices.

If the Dutch protests drag on, ``measures will have to be taken,'' said police spokesman Willem van Hooijdonk.

Three trucks were parked across the road, halting all traffic between the port city of Rotterdam and the southern town of Breda, about 55 miles south of Amsterdam. Traffic was backed up more than six miles.

``Lots of smaller companies are on the verge of bankruptcy because of the high prices,'' said Ruben Hubbers, spokesman of the Resistance Party, which organized the action.