Fishermen’s protest in Brussels turns violent
5 June 2008
BRUSSELS – Hundreds of angry fishermen from mostly France and Italy hurled stones at the police and fired flares at European Union buildings Wednesday during a protest in Brussels against rising petrol prices.
Police estimated the number of protesters at around 250, but demonstrators said law-enforcing agents had prevented hundreds of others from Spain and Portugal from reaching the Belgian capital.
Flares fired by the fishermen damaged the headquarters of the European Commission and smashed windows of a nearby building hosting EU translators. Police in anti-riot gear moved to disperse the crowd and used water cannons to extinguish burning banners.
Many of the surrounding streets were cordoned off with barbed wire.
At least one policeman was slightly injured in the clashes, which took place while a delegation of about 30 fishermen was meeting EU officials.
Ten fishermen were detained by police.
Wednesday’s protest match in Brussels has caused traffic chaos in the area around the Schuman roundabout.
Four road tunnels between the eastern suburbs and Brussels city centre have been closed.
Fishermen across Europe have being taking action in recent weeks to protest at the increase in fuel prices. Last week, Flemish fishermen marched through Brussels.
On Wednesday, protesters called for diesel prices to be reduced to EUR 0.40 cents per litre, with one Italian banner reading: "We can’t keep up with the pace of petrol."
"We have to find a solution for fuel that is compatible with European Union (rules)," said Pierre D’Acunto, a French protester.
Officials from the EU’s executive, the commission, say there are "no short term solutions" to the problem of soaring fuel prices, insisting instead that fishing fleets should restructure rather than demand aid.
"Any specific remedy should reflect long-term structural problems and should not run counter to them," said commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger.
Last week, EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg said European fisheries would only have a future if member states, industry and the EU executive worked together to create "smaller, more fuel-efficient fleets".
Fishermen across Europe have staged demonstrations in protest at soaring fuel prices, which the commission says has pushed the price of marine diesel up by 240 per cent since 2004.
The commission, which is responsible for setting annual limits on the amount and type of fish which EU fishermen catch, regularly comes under fire from the fishing industry, which accuses the Brussels body of setting unfairly low quotas and overloading it with complex legislation.
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