Revolt against fuel prices continues

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The Independent Online

Farmers and hauliers are threatening to blockade motorways, fuel depots and ports across Britain as part of a growing campaign against rising fuel prices.

Farmers and hauliers are threatening to blockade motorways, fuel depots and ports across Britain as part of a growing campaign against rising fuel prices.

Their warnings came as the protests that closed a fuel depot in Cheshire on Thursday spread yesterday to include a slow convoy of 100 lorries blocking the A1 near Gateshead, Tyne and Wear and a blockade of a fuel depot at Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire.

Petrol stations in north-west England told customers fuel supplies could run out as a result of a picket by farmers and lorry drivers of the fuel depot at Shell's Stanlow refinery near Ellesmere Port, Cheshire. Shell executives told 60 tanker drivers to stay in the depot after the protest ended, saying they had been threatened. The decision halted the supply of 1.8 million litres of fuel to several hundred petrol stations.

The protest at Hemel Hempstead, involving four trucks parked across the entrance of Buncefield's depot, prevented 20 tankers taking fuel to local petrol stations. Protesters said their action would continue "indefinitely."

Yesterday lorry drivers, farmers and union leaders said the protests were a foretaste of a campaign in autumn emulating the blockades by French hauliers, farmers and taxi-drivers. David Handley, chairman of Farmers for Action UK, which helped arrange the Stanlow protest, said: "I would suggest to you this is going to be the winter of unrest."

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, the transport minister, said these protests were unfair and unnecessary. "People have the right to a peaceful demonstration, but they don't have the right to interrupt the vital supplies in the country, or put the livelihood and convenience of other people at risk."

The French campaign, which affected British lorry drivers and holiday-makers, is expected to continue this weekend and threatens to paralyse large areas of provincial France. Lionel Jospin, the Prime Minister, has to decide whether to mobilise troops to confront hauliers who yesterday refused to accept a slightly improved tax-cutting package offered by his government.

It was accepted by one body representing small truck companies but rejected by another for middle-sized firms. Some hauliers insisted on maintaining the protests, in solidarity with taxi-drivers, private ambulance crews and others.

Several refinery sieges were lifted last night but members of the small truckers' federation, the FNTR, rejected instructions to lift barricades which have sealed off 102 oil refineries and depots since Sunday.

In Britain, the Road Haulage Association ( RHA) attempted to distance themselves from the sporadic incidents around the country but confirmed it would press ahead with a drive-slow protest into Edinburgh on Tuesday. The RHA Scotland protest, which was organised last month and has been authorised by the police and city council, is expected to draw support from across Britain. In a statement, it said: "At this moment, French hauliers are blockading fuel depots, thereby preventing deliveries to fuel stations. Outcome of this action? Success! We talk again and again about the industry's plight, but what we want is action. What is more, we want it now."

The RHA said it would not condone illegal actions but it still demonstrate at Labour's annual party conference in Brighton in two weeks. It has also brought forward to next month a "funeral march" in London which was originally planned for November.

Leaders of a small truckers' union which claims to represent 10,000 drivers also said they were helping to stage a European Union-wide campaign of blockades and protests against fuel prices, vehicle taxes, low wages and the £2,000 fines for bringing illegal immigrants into Britain.

Douglas Curtis, head of communications with the United Road Transport Union, said he had forged links with continental drivers' unions, including French drivers unions which has so far opposed the direct action hitting France. He claimed the first European day of action would take place on 2 October.

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