Two arrested as refinery protests start to bite

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The Independent Online

Protesters demanding lower UK fuel prices maintained scattered blockades of refineries Saturday, and police arrested two men following an altercation between demonstrators and a tanker driver.

Protesters demanding lower UK fuel prices maintained scattered blockades of refineries Saturday, and police arrested two men following an altercation between demonstrators and a tanker driver.

Protesters, apparently inspired by massive demonstrations in France, are pressing the government to reduce fuel taxes, now the highest in Europe.

Their protests are starting to have an effect on petrol supplies: oil company Shell said 20 to 30 stations in the North West would run out of petrol "imminently".

And BP, which is also supplied by the Stanlow refinery, reported signs of panic-buying at stations in Liverpool, but said its own petrol stations had so far not run out of fuel.

The arrests were outside a Shell refinery in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, where protesters began a blockade on Friday.

"The tanker was coming out of the premises and for whatever reason there was an altercation," said Inspector Russell Barnes of Cheshire police.

The 21-year-old fuel price protester, from Denbighshire, was later released on police bail until the end of the month while the 35-year-old tanker driver, from Merseyside, was still being questioned by police this morning.

Blockades at Texaco and Elf refineries in Pembrokeshire, west Wales, prevented workers from driving to their jobs, but they were allowed to walk through.

The Texaco protest, the biggest so far, about 50 trucks were joined by farmers, taxi drivers and coach operators.

Britain has the highest fuel taxes in Europe, with tax accounting for 74 percent of the retail price.

"What we want to see is fuel prices the same across the board as in Europe. We are fighting for our livelihood here," said Eifion Jones, a truck driver from Carmarthen, Wales.

Archie Norman, speaking for the Conservative Party, said he sympathized with the protests but argued that they should not be directed at refineries.

"I feel the person to be protesting at is (Treasury chief) Gordon Brown and the government, not the oil refinery," Norman said in a BBC radio interview.

Scottish Secretary John Reid, speaking on the same program, said that recent hikes in fuel prices reflect the soaring price of crude oil, up from $11 in 1998 to $34 currently.

Fuel prices have gone up 19p per litre in the past two years, and 17p of that was due to the higher price of crude, Mr Reid argued.

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