Thousands of European truckers join fuel protests
9 June 2008 MADRID - Tens of thousands of truckers in Spain, France and Portugal on Monday stepped up protests against rising fuel prices, causing mayhem on highways and blocking border crossings. Huge tailbacks built up around major cities and on the French-Spanish border as French fishermen in Mediterranean ports ended their three-week strike over the spiralling cost of fuel. Spain's second largest hauliers' union Fenadismer, which claims to represent 70,000 out of Spain's 380,000 truck drivers, launched an open ended strike on Monday which it said was "peaceful" but followed "massively". As the hauliers began talks with the government, trucks jammed several main highways including at the frontier with France, according to traffic officials who also reported massive snarls in Madrid and Valencia. A Spanish truckers' group calling itself the Platform for the Defence of the Transport Sector, who say they speak for 50,000 truckers, walked off the job last week and have threatened to disrupt the opening this weekend of the International Exposition in Zaragosa. The conservative Spanish newspaper ABC said the aim of the strikers was to block oil supplies from refineries and stocks at retail markets this week. Spanish media said the number of trucks at wholesale markets on Monday was considerably lower than usual. French truckers struggling with high fuel costs staged fresh protests near the Spanish border and in the southwest. Several trucks from the southern city of Perpignan disrupted traffic at border posts, preventing trucks from crossing and causing a tailback of some 10 kilometres on both sides of the border. Private cars were allowed through. Protestors branded banners which read: "Trucker = Unemployed," and "It's the end of our profession." Some 200 trucks were to converge on the four main motorways leading into Bordeaux on Monday for another protest, said Jean-Pierre Morlin, president of the European trucking organisation for the Aquitaine region. "We are demanding immediate measures" to counter the impact of high fuel prices, said Morlin. About 30 kilometres of tailbacks were reported in and around Bordeaux on Monday morning. Portuguese truckers Monday threatened to "paralyze" the country. According to police, trucks parked at petrol pumps were stoned overnight or while they were on the road after the strike started at midnight. Many had their windscreens shattered. The strikers also blocked entrances to several factories. According to industry figures, there are some 40,000 truckers in Portugal serving an estimated 5,000 firms. However, French fishermen from Mediterranean ports on Monday ended a three-week strike ahead of a key meeting of European fisheries ministers. "All of the fleets from the Mediterranean ports went back to work this morning, but we remain very vigilant," said Ange Natoli, a representative of the Mediterranean fishing fleets. EU fisheries ministers meet on 23-24 June to tackle the fuel crisis. Fleets in the Channel ports of Boulogne-sur-Mer, Calais and Dunkirk last week called off their strike pending the talks. Marine diesel prices have leaped by around 30 percent since the start of 2008, triggering protests in European ports as well as warnings that fishing boat owners face bankruptcy without higher subsidies.
[AFP / Expatica]