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Fuel shortages bite as S.Africa strike drags on

Motorists in Johannesburg formed long queues for petrol Friday as some stations ran dry amid a five-day strike by oil industry workers that is set to last at least through the weekend.

Some 70,000 workers at oil refineries and related industries went on strike Monday demanding a minimum salary of 6,000 rand ($870, 615 euros) a month.

The Fuel Retailers’ Association said the stayaway had caused at least 200 service stations to run dry nationwide — 150 in Gauteng province, where Johannesburg and Pretoria are located, and 50 in the east coast province of KwaZulu-Natal.

The Department of Energy and the South African Petroleum Industry Association accused striking workers of intimidating fuel depot employees who tried to keep deliveries running.

“SAPIA and the Department of Energy would like to reassure the public that SAPIA members are doing everything possible to ensure continuity of supply, but it is under pressure as intimidation remains an issue,” they said in a statement.

“This impacts on the ability of the member companies to move trucks in and out of depots, which in turn makes it difficult to get product to the service stations.”

Police were called in to escort tanker trucks at some depots, but at least three depots around Johannesburg had been blocked by strikers, local media reported.

Motorists resorted to social networking site Twitter to find out where they could still buy fuel.

The prospect of a weekend of petrol shortages was making some drivers anxious.

“Where can I get petrol in Joburg??? Please help,” Bongolethu Bacela said on Twitter.

The Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union said its leaders planned to meet Monday with employers.

The union’s wage demand amounts to a raise of 11 to 13 percent, while employers are offering four to seven percent. Inflation stood at 4.6 percent in May.