(AFP) – Jun 11, 2008
MADRID (AFP) — Global protests over fuel prices intensified Wednesday as blockades by Spanish and Portuguese truckers heightened food shortages and traffic chaos, and their counterparts in Thailand and South Korea threatened to join them on strike.
In Portugal, the strike hit air transport as authorities at Lisbon airport banned planes from refuelling, except those on high priority flights.
"We cannot refuel any planes, except those on urgent, military or state flights," a spokesman for the airport authority, Rui Oliveira, told Lusa news agency.
The Spanish auto plants of Seat, Nissan, Renault, PSA Peugeot Citroen and Mercedes Benz were all forced to either cut or halt production as the strike left them short of parts.
Tens of thousands of truck drivers launched stoppages in Spain, Portugal and France on Monday to demand government help to cope with the rising price of fuel caused by soaring oil prices, which last week reached almost 140 dollars a barrel.
The protests have paralysed roads, causing huge tailbacks, notably on the Spanish-French border and around major Spanish cities, and left supermarkets short of fresh produce and some petrol stations without supplies.
On Tuesday, the protests turned deadly as two strikers were killed, while three truck drivers also suffered burns after their vehicles were torched during the night.
As the movement spread, the European Commission Wednesday called on EU nations to take targeted action to help those most vulnerable deal with rocketing oil prices.
"The commission is of the opinion that EU member states can and must take targeted measures to help those most vulnerable and who are worst affected by the situation," chief spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said.
In Spain, road haulage unions resumed negotiations with the government that were suspended on Tuesday after a truck driver was run over and killed by a van as he manned a picket line in the southern city of Granada.
Transport Minister Magdalena Alvarez announced late Tuesday the government had reached an accord with non-striking unions, representing 82 percent of the sector, aimed at easing the crisis.
She said the deal would be presented on Wednesday to the other unions which called the strike.
A Spanish lorry driver suffered serious burns overnight as he was sleeping in his vehicle when it was torched along with three others near the eastern city of Alicante, the fire service said.
In Portugal, two truck drivers also suffered burns in similar incidents in Santarem, north of Lison.
Portuguese police stepped up patrols after a striker manning a picket line north of Lisbon was run over and killed by a lorry on Tuesday.
Police escorted about 40 oil trucks to petrol stations around Lisbon and the western town of Setubal. Strikers had prevented the trucks from leaving a warehouse north of the capital.
Long queues formed at many petrol stations, some of which were out of supplies.
The Portuguese truckers vowed to step up their blockades Wednesday, particularly in the north of the country, where they plan to seal off the port of Leixos as well as supermarket warehouses.
Several supermarket chains have already expressed concern over the shortage of fresh products, especially milk.
In Spain too, the blocked roads meant wholesale food markets in large cities suffered shortages of fresh fish, fruits and vegetables.
Truckers also maintained a blockade of a motorway across the French-Spanish border by the western town of Biriatou. On the French side, traffic jams were reported up to the western port of Bordeaux.
But Spanish police early Wednesday reopened the main motorway linking Barcelona with France at the northeastern border town of Jonquera. On the French side, truckers who had blocked the road since Monday also left.
Across the world, Thai truck drivers threatened Wednesday to go on strike next week and block roads to the capital with 400,000 lorries unless the government helps them pay for soaring fuel costs.
The Confederation of Transportation of Thailand (CTT) has handed over its demands to government ministries and Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, giving them a deadline of next Tuesday.
Truckers in South Korea have voted to go on strike on Friday.
In Malaysia, the opposition has planned a series of rallies culminating in a July 12 demonstration which they hope will attract 100,000 people following the government's fuel price hike of 41 percent last week.
Around 50,000 Polish truckers staged one-hour protests across the country Wednesday, although without blocking roads, the organisers said.
The British government is also finalising contingency plans to cope with a four-day strike by oil tanker drivers this weekend.
And Dutch truckers announced plans to block roads at 18 points across the country for 30 minutes on Thursday.
The road haulage strikes follow those by fishermen in several European countries over fuel costs.
Spanish fisherman maintained their strike launched May 30, though many have returned to work since last week.
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