Drivers threaten to extend blockade

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HUNDREDS OF lorry drivers are planning to extend a demonstration that brought traffic chaos to London yesterday after they were snubbed by the Government, which "refused to be held to ransom".

Hauliers threatened to blockade Channel ports and bring other cities to a standstill after they were prevented from holding talks with the Prime Minister or the Chancellor.

About 1,000 lorries blocked Park Lane in central London in protest at rises in diesel duty and road tax announced in the Budget. A delegation from Trans-action, the group behind the protest, was allowed to go to the front door of 10 Downing Street but was told no one would meet it.

Frank Stears, a Kent-based haulier who led the delegation, said: "We are fighting for our livelihoods. We are fighting for the price of diesel and road tax to come in line with Europe. We have asked if somebody will speak to us ... so we don't have to hold any more demos."

He said 51,000 road haulage jobs were on the line, as many as were under threat at Longbridge, the Rover car factory. "We are trying to keep British small firms and British drivers and their families in jobs and prevent putting them on the DHSS."

Hundreds of lorries blocked the road for five hours. Drivers and their families mingled on the pavement and picnicked in nearby Hyde Park.

Ron Wood, of RW Haulage Services of Sheerness, Kent, said he would go out of business unless the Government backed down. "If they do not listen to us we will do it properly next time - and shut all the docks, all the motorways and all the cities. If they want us to be like the French truckers, we will."

Joe Cook, of JS Cook of Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, said there would be a blockade of the Channel ports, while Peter Starkins from Basildon, Essex, said: "We will shut London down for two weeks if necessary."

The Government said it would not be held to ransom by a "relatively small number of people". John Reid, a Transport minister, said: "I am not going to have any concessions wrung from me. I have offered the path of dialogue to the hauliers but apparently they prefer the path of disruption."