Fishermen fuel protests set to spread across Europe
Fishermen in Italy, Spain and Portugal were set to join their French counterpart in protests over fuel prices on Friday.30 May 2008
PARIS - Fishermen in Italy, Spain and Portugal were set to join Friday their French counterparts in protests over fuel prices, a day after French police removed demonstrators blockading oil depots.
"On Friday the stoppage will be total in Spain which has Europe's largest fishing fleet," said Jose Antonio Caparros, spokesman of the fishing cooperatives of the northeastern Spanish Mediterranean port of Barcelona.
"Everything will stop tomorrow, not only in Spain but we hope in France, Portugal and Belgium as well," Caparros said Thursday.
The open-ended strike was set to coincide with a mass demonstration at the environment, agriculture and fisheries ministry in Madrid called by fisheries association Cepesca.
Cepesca has called for urgent economic measures to deal with fuel costs and the falling price of fish, which it says is due to an uncontrolled rise in imports from outside the European Union.
Like the French, the Spanish may blockade ports.
"We must mobilise like the French and if we have to block ports, we'll block them," said Xavier Aboy, a union leader in Galicia region on Spain's Atlantic coast.
Italy's main fishing union, Federcoopesca, said it was joining its Spanish counterpart in striking from Friday, and Portuguese fishermen also planned to join the action demanding government aid similar to that given to competitors in France and Spain.
The Italian government refused emergency aid Wednesday.
In Italy, at least 5,000 fishermen were expected to stay in port Friday according Federcoopesca.
Portuguese industrial action will last "as long as it takes", said Miguel Cunha, chairman of the country's association of fishing fleets.
French fishermen have been in the vanguard of a wave of protests across western Europe over rising fuel costs, as oil prices hit a global record of over USD 130 a barrel.
President Nicolas Sarkozy's government last week announced EUR 100 million in immediate aid for the fishermen, who say rising fuel costs are driving them to the brink of bankruptcy.
EU member states can currently give their fishermen a subsidy of up to EUR 30,000 over a three-year period without seeking the European Commission's approval.
But the French and Spanish fishermen consider this too low and have demanded additional help from their governments to be able to cope with the sharp increase of diesel prices.
On Thursday, French riot police cleared striking fishermen from several oil depots.
Groups of strikers were removed at dawn from the Mediterranean oil depots of Fos-sur-Mer and Lavera, as well as a Total refinery in La Mede, which have been blockaded on-and-off for three weeks, said union leader Frederic Mateo.
Also on Thursday, some 900 fishermen from several Brittany ports gathered in the northern city of Quimper to vent their anger at a French government rescue package they said was insufficient.
Union leader Armand Le Cossec said the government's approach was confused.
"The decrees are piling up and contradicting each other. The government and the EU do not know what is going on," he said.
Following a request Wednesday from Portugal for an urgent debate, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa said he would put oil and food prices on the agenda of an EU summit on 19-20 June.
But EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg stressed that fuel subsidies were not the answer. "Fuel subsidies, besides being illegal, would do absolutely nothing to deal with the underlying problems," he said.
"On the contrary, they would serve only to perpetuate the problems of the sector and make the crash even greater when it comes."
[AFP / Expatica]
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