Exclusion zone will bar fuel protesters from London

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The Independent Online

A huge exclusion zone is to be set up around London as part of a series of unprecedented security measures to prevent lorry drivers causing disruption during next week's fuel protest.

A huge exclusion zone is to be set up around London as part of a series of unprecedented security measures to prevent lorry drivers causing disruption during next week's fuel protest.

Chief constables adopted a tough stance against the demonstrators yesterday, with plans to install police check points on the outskirts of London, ban all protesters from Westminster, and impose a minimum 50mph speed limit on motorway convoys.

Oil companies and the police have also installed fences and bollards to prevent protesters from gathering outside fuel depots for next Tuesday's protests.

Any hauliers who try to block all lanes of the motorway or drop below 50mph will be pulled over. Those who refuse to abide by the police restrictions are likely to be arrested and could have their licences taken away by the courts.

The restrictions on the convoy were likened to measures applied in a "police state" by one leader of the anti-fuel-tax rally. But support for the protest appeared to be waning as Tony Blair stepped up the pressure, saying that he would not make any further concessions.

The convoy, 70 vehicles strong when it left Tyneside in the morning, had dwindled to fewer than 30 by the time it stopped for the night north of Leeds. One vehicle was removed from the road by officers because it was deemed to be travelling too slowly. Brynle Williams, a leader of the original protests, called for the convoy to be called off.

Scotland Yard unveiled details of three exclusion zones stretching as far as the M25 orbital motorway - 17 miles from the centre of London. In the first, police checkpoints will stop all lorries and protest vehicles unless the drivers have documentary evidence that they are carrying out normal business. Vehicles stopped by the police will be kept at emergency lorry parks close to the M25 and the protesters will have to take public transport to the rally at Hyde Park in central London. Scotland Yard drivers will be on stand-by to confiscate vehicles if hauliers refuse to co-operate.

A second exclusion zone to tackle vehicles already inside the M25 will operate in London - between Blackfriars, Vauxhall, Paddington and King's Cross. Police checkpoints will stop any protest lorries longer than 40ft from entering. All lorries and protesters, even those on foot, will be banned from the third zone - known as the "Sessional Area" - which covers Parliament, Downing Street, St James's Park, and Green Park.

Thousands of people are expected to gather at Hyde Park for Tuesday's rally to demand tax cuts in fuel duty before marching to Battersea Park.

Outlining his force's plans, Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said that measures were being taken in part because of fears that the protest could be exploited by dissident republican terrorists who may be mounting a bombing campaign.

Asked about what had prompted the tougher stance, Tony Burden, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, insisted that there had been no interference from the Government.

After the fuel blockade in September, the police had reassessed their position and now believed that the use of slow-moving convoys was a "very dangerous tactic" that they would not tolerate again, he said.

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