Spain, Ireland, Poland join European protests against fuel prices

BARCELONA, Spain, Reuters

Truckers in Spain, Ireland and Poland joined Europe wide protests against high petrol prices on Friday while Britain and Belgium struggled to recover from the paralyzing effects of days of fuel blockades.

Convoys of Spanish truckers and farmers joined forces to slow traffic on the main ring road around Barcelona, Spain’s second-largest city, and farmers began similar action in Merida, in the western Extremadura agricultural region.

Others planned to picket the site of this weekend’s Spanish-German summit in the city of Segovia, in central Spain, between Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

In Ireland, motorists faced disruption as thousands of truckers clogged roads with a go-slow protest.

Hauliers pushed ahead with a threatened 24-hour-long campaign after the government rejected their demand that it cut diesel fuel tax by a third.

In Poland, columns of trucks driving below 30 kph (18 mph) snarled traffic in several larger cities, but police said the action was limited and failed to clog traffic.

Across Europe, government taxes make up the bulk of what drivers pay at the pump and add to the pain of crude oil prices, still at their highest in a decade.

In the Netherlands, the government promised concrete proposals as the country’s largest protests to date stopped traffic across the country. Hundreds of trucks poured into The Hague as truckers took their anger to the heart of government.

Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm, preparing next week’s 2001 budget, said government members would meet road hauliers’ representatives on Saturday and “would not come empty-handed”, ANP news agency said.

German truckers caused traffic chaos for the fourth day running, jamming the northern city of Bremen, while opposition politicians launched a parliamentary bid to cut fuel taxes.