LONDON — Police closed some petrol stations Thursday to stop panic buying as the government faced criticism for warning motorists to stock up ahead of a threatened strike by tanker drivers.
Retailers said petrol sales were nearly double normal on Wednesday, while there was a surge in sales of jerrycans after a minister advised people to fill them with fuel, in comments he was later forced to retract.
Opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband called on Prime Minister David Cameron to apologise after the government issued a string of conflicting messages to motorists.
"The prime minister is presiding over a shambles on petrol. The country is paying the price for the incompetent way he is governing," Miliband said.
Police forces in several areas reported queues at petrol stations.
The county of Dorset said it had told some petrol stations to close temporarily because motorists were behaving "irresponsibly" and causing a danger to others.
"Police are taking action, requesting petrol stations to close temporarily in order to keep traffic flowing. Once the queues have dispersed, the petrol stations may reopen for short periods," Dorset Police said.
Emergency services in London and West Sussex said they had been called out to deal with spillages from people overfilling their vehicles.
The Automobile Association said there were "localised shortages, queues and some profiteering" at petrol stations.
Workers in five oil companies have already voted in favour of industrial action over terms, conditions and safety standards but have not yet set a date for a strike.
Negotiators said talks on the strike would not be held before Monday.
The government has said it is training up army tanker drivers to take over in case a strike goes ahead.
But the government on Thursday repeated its advice to people to keep stocked up with petrol, although it toned down the message after a series of conflicting comments by Cameron and other ministers the previous day.
Energy Minister Ed Davey denied the government was creating panic.
"Our major advice is that people just need to do the sensible thing if they're going into the petrol station, they should get a full tank of petrol, not a half-tank of petrol, and they should top up where necessary," he told the BBC.
The fuel saga hotted up on Wednesday when Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said that motorists should fill up jerrycans with petrol and keep them in their garages.
Firefighters said his advice was dangerous -- and illegal depending on the size of the cans involved -- and the government retracted Maude's advice on Thursday.
Roads minister Mike Penning said it had been ... He has apologised since".
The government's words failed to assure motorists. Halfords, a motor supplies retailer, said sales of jerrycans had increased by 500 percent from the same time in 2011.
Britain's Petrol Retailers Association, which represents around 5,500 garages, said petrol sales increased by 81 percent and diesel by 43 percent on Wednesday.
"This is exactly what we didn't want -- people panic buying," a spokesman for the association said.
The fuel row caps a difficult two weeks for Cameron's coalition government, with the Tories facing accusations of being out of touch.
Cameron has become involved in a bizarre row over plans to chargeVAT on some hot foods including Cornish pasties and pies, a move critics say will hit working families at a time of harsh austerity measures.
His government has also come under fire for cutting the top rate of income tax on high earners from 50 percent to 45 percent.
The treasurer of the Conservative party, Peter Cruddas, was meanwhile forced to resign at the weekend for having tried to sell access to the premier to wealthy supporters.
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