Oil tankers fill stations after blockades lifted, but protests grow elsewhere

PARIS - Blockades at France's oil refineries and depots were lifted Sunday and tankers began refilling service stations after six days of protests against high taxes paralyzed fuel distribution and stalled planes, trains and motorists.

The Interior Ministry said that truckers and farmers in western France had removed their seven holdout blockades by early Sunday afternoon.

''Fuel tankers can begin making deliveries,'' said Pierre Navaro, a ministry spokesman. ''We can begin restocking immediately.''

The Transport Ministry gave heavy vehicles permission to drive in France on Sunday to expedite fuel deliveries. Trucks are normally barred from French roads on weekends.

The removal of blockades and the onset of fuel distribution, however, was not expected to immediately ease the plight of motorists, who were still lined up bumper-to-bumper at service stations around France. LCI television reported that in the southern city of Marseille, 60 percent of service stations remained dry Sunday.

The news came as OPEC members meeting in Vienna, Austria, agreed Sunday to boost the group's official oil output by 800,000 barrels a day. The decision came amid mounting international pressure on OPEC to pump more oil to stem surging fuel prices.

But as protests wound down in France, unrest in neighboring European countries appeared to gain momentum.

In Brussels, thousands of truckers, taxi drivers and tour bus operators took to the streets to push the government to reconsider a lowering of fuel taxes or a tax exemption for the transportation industry.

British truckers blocked several refineries and gas stations, causing nationwide shortages. About 100 Shell stations ran out of fuel because of the protest at a huge Shell refinery in northeast England.

''It is not critical by any means but it is getting worse. If these actions continue into the early part of next week there will be severe difficulties,'' said Roy Holloway, director of the Petrol Retailers' Association.

In the north German city of Hildesheim, a national truckers' group warned the government that the industry's mood is ''aggressive'' and that high fuel costs could spark large-scale protests, Focus magazine reported in editions to go on newsstands Monday.

In France, truckers and farmers began lifting blockades on Saturday after union leaders unanimously called for an end to the protest, which began last Monday.

The National Federation of Road Transport, the country's largest truckers union, accepted the government's offer on Friday, as did a smaller union. The last holdout, France's second-largest truckers' group UNOSTRA, accepted the deal Saturday and joined two agriculture unions in calls to lift blockades from more than 160 oil refineries and fuel depots around the country.

Other groups that joined the protests - including ambulance drivers and taxi drivers - won a variety of concessions from France's leftist government.

Finance Minister Laurent Fabius said Sunday that the total impact of tax concessions made to truckers would cost the government about $405 million over 2000 and 2001.

Truckers were offered a 20-cent reimbursement per gallon of fuel this year, and a 14-cent refund per gallon on gasoline taxes next year. Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, under pressure from Green Party members of his coalition, vowed that no further concessions would be made.

Farmers were offered a 30 percent decrease in gasoline taxes for the year 2000, said Luc Guyau, president of the National Federation of Agricultural Workers.

Taxi drivers were given the go-ahead to raise their fares by 4.5 percent starting next month to cover the rising cost of fuel, FranceInfo radio reported.

The blockades caused disruptions at some airports and on high-speed trains. Many local governments began rationing gasoline to motorists.

Nice-Cote d'Azur airport said that flights had returned to normal on Sunday after cancellations and delays during the week due to lack of fuel.

Diesel fuel in France costs $2.84 per gallon, nearly twice the price of such fuel in the United States. Fuel prices here have jumped about 40 percent in the past year.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment