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Traffic chaos in Portugal as taxi drivers stage Uber protest

Thousands of taxi drivers disrupted traffic across Portugal on Friday as they protested against US cab giant Uber, which they accuse of illegally undercutting their business.

In the capital Lisbon, between 3,000 and 4,000 cabbies were driving at a snail’s pace through the city, according to the two main industry bodies organising the protest, Antral and the Portuguese Taxi Federation.

Some 1,000 protesters were also out in second city Porto, while around a hundred mobilised in the southern resort of Faro.

Lisbon taxi drivers adorned their cabs with black ribbons to signal a profession in “mourning”. They stuck posters to their windows reading “Uber go home”, “Uber is illegal” and “Uber is a national crime”.

Access to Lisbon airport was temporarily blocked by the parade of protesting cabs as it headed slowly towards the parliament, and tourists were having to make do with the city metro.

“The government has to stop Uber’s operations, which represent unfair competition with the taxis,” said Antral president Florencio Almeida.

“We don’t need state subsidies, but we want the law to be enforced,” he added.

Portugal’s Socialist government last month announced 17 million euros ($19.4 million) of funding to boost the taxi sector in a bid to placate drivers angry at the rise of Uber, but the protesters say this is not enough.

“They are not subject to the same laws as us, and they don’t respect the rules,” said 34-year-old Lisbon driver Rui Pinto.

“If the government doesn’t prevent Uber from operating, they must be forced to pay insurance fees like us.”

– ‘Business down by 20%’ –

Another protester, 80-year-old Antonio Nunes, said the company was guilty of “theft” for not paying more tax in Portugal.

Uber transfers its Portuguese earnings to the Netherlands under complex international tax arrangements, though it does pay VAT in Portugal.

The Portuguese Taxi Federation says business has dropped 20 percent since Uber arrived in the country in July 2014.

Business has boomed for Uber since it launched in San Francisco in 2011.

But the smartphone app has faced stiff resistance from traditional taxi drivers the world over, as well as bans in some places over safety concerns and questions over legal issues, including taxes.

Licensed taxi drivers, who must undergo hundreds of hours of training in some countries, often complain that Uber drivers do not pay for permits or taxes.

Uber says it is not a transport company like taxi firms, and that it simply connects drivers with passengers.