Brussels brought to a halt as Belgians join protest

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The Independent Online

Belgium became the latest country to suffer a wave of disruptive protests over fuel prices as the discontent which has gripped France spread to Germany, Spain and Ireland.

Belgium became the latest country to suffer a wave of disruptive protests over fuel prices as the discontent which has gripped France spread to Germany, Spain and Ireland.

Encouraged by the success of French truckers in winning concessions by blockading oil refineries and ports, Belgian drivers brought Brussels to a noisy standstill yesterday.

Horns blaring, several hundred truck and bus drivers blocked main roads leading to the city's European Union district as protests escalated.

Trucks also tried to cut access to the country's largest oil refinery, at Feluy, near Charleroi, and an Esso depot near Tournai.

As a stand-off developed in Brussels, Serge Adriaens, head of one transport union, said the duration of the action "depends on the minister". The protest was also expected to spread to other Belgian cities including Liege and Antwerp.

The success of the French protest in forcing government concessions has only raised the stakes elsewhere in Europe.

The Irish Road Haulage Association, which represents some 1,200 of the country's 4,000 truckers, said it would mount protests on Friday and next Monday unless the government agreed to a 20 percent cut in duty on diesel. The Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, agreed to meet truck drivers tomorrow.

In Germany, truckers and farmers blocked traffic in Ãœlzen and Hildesheim. The opposition and the motoring lobby threatened widescale protests to force a cut in vehicle and fuel taxes, particularly the so-called "ecology tax" on energy.

Hans Eichel, the finance minister, said that the government was drawing the line at a package of tax cuts which has already been outlined. "There's no more," Mr Eichel said.

But that position was challenged by the unions, which threatened a new campaign of militancy. "The transport sector will rise up, the marches are beginning," said Bernhard Franzky of the Transport Sector Association.

In Spain, the National Platform of Fuel Consumers, which represents truckers, taxi drivers, farmers and car owners, called for a boycott of Repsol YPF, Spain's largest fuel vendor. It also threatened protests and a national strike if the government did not cut its special taxes on petrol and diesel fuel.

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