Spain clamps down on strikers

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The Spanish authorities get tough as fishermen and farmers join striking hauliers to demand for subsidies for rising fuel cost.

12 June 2008

MADRID - The government on Wednesday began clamping down on striking truckers, deploying riot police to end a blockade of the French border and clear roads around Madrid as shortages of gasoline and fresh food became apparent nationwide.

But as the highways started to clear three days into the strike over rising fuel prices, authorities were forced to turn their attention to protests in several cities where farmers and fishermen clashed violently with police.

Since the strike began on Monday, 51 truckers have been arrested, many of them accused of illegally blocking roads or threatening other drivers - actions that Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba said the government will no longer tolerate.

"The security forces will act resolutely to keep roads clear and ensure that basic products are distributed," Rubalcaba said.

Police have escorted 3,000 trucks since the strike began on Monday to ensure essential supplies of food, medicine and fuel get through the picketing drivers. Shortages so far have been localised, though fresh fish and fruit and vegetables are becoming increasingly hard to find.

Several gas stations have run dry in outlying areas and city suburbs, though others are being supplied by tankers escorted by police.

"People will continue to be able to get gasoline," Rubalcaba declared.

The interior minister and other government officials also urged Spaniards not to let tensions spiral out of control after a truck was set on fire in Alicante on Tuesday night while its driver was sleeping inside. He suffered second-degree burns to 25 percent of his body and was recovering in hospital Wednesday.

On Tuesday, a picketing trucker was killed near Granada when he was run down by another driver trying to break through a picket line.

The protesting truckers were joined Wednesday by farmers and fishermen who demonstrated in several cities in an attempt to pressure the government into providing tax breaks and subsidies to compensate for higher fuel costs.

In Seville, at least 12 people were injured and five arrested as fishermen clashed with police. Similar protests in Almería by farmers and by fishermen in Santiago de Compostela also ended in violence.

So far, the government has been unable to offer a solution that satisfies any of the protesters' demands, while opposition parties have accused it of ignoring the economy since Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was re-elected in March.

The prime minister announced Wednesday, however, that he plans to meet with business leaders and trades unions next week to discuss the economy, while negotiations with truckers and the other groups protesting will continue until an agreement is reached.

[El Pais / A. Eatwell / Expatica]

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