French drivers promise to step up blockade

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The Independent Online
ANGRY LORRY drivers last night vowed to intensify their stranglehold on French roads even before the start of talks to settle the row which has stranded thousands of tourists and disrupted industry.

They said the five-day blockade would be stepped up, as talks with the government had not solved a dispute over a new points-system driving licence. 'We have decided to reinforce existing road-blocks and set up new ones,' a drivers' trade union spokesman said.

Thousands of juggernauts parked across roads and motorways, including the north-south gateway to Mediterranean resorts, have stranded foreign holidaymakers and halted supplies to industry and supermarkets in France and other European countries, including Britain.

A spokesman for the usually moderate Force Ouvriere union said: 'This is going to get worse. Our drivers are determined.'

Pierre Beregovoy, the French Prime Minister, cut short a visit to Spain to chair an emergency ministerial meeting yesterday. The situation across the country worsened yesterday despite official claims that deals were made to lift many of the roadblocks on main highways.

Officials said earlier some road-blocks had been removed but most were in areas relatively untouched by the dispute. Talks are under way at other sites and they hoped to see further agreements, they said. A promised lifting of a three-day blockade of Toulouse failed to materialise after truckers rejected an agreement made by their representatives.

Mr Beregovoy's decision to return to Paris heightened the atmosphere of crisis caused by this week's protests, which have begun to affect fuel and food supplies in some areas. With large numbers of cars expected on the roads today, the start of the summer tourist season, there are fears of chaos on the roads.

The government has threatened to withdraw the driving licences of drivers blocking the country's motorways but this has had little effect.

John MacGregor, the British Secretary of State for Transport, said yesterday that he was 'appalled at the chaos being caused to British hauliers and


French police said a Welsh coach party who became media stars when they were trapped by French truck-drivers on the Lille-Paris motorway rejected an offer to leave. Police said the coach driver was offered a motorcycle escort to guide him through secondary roads on Tuesday but he had turned them down.

Further reports, page 2