Petrol disputes spread on the Continent

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The Independent Online

Fuel protests across Europe increased yesterday when hauliers barricaded several Belgian border crossings and demonstrations took hold in neighbouring Germany.

Fuel protests across Europe increased yesterday when hauliers barricaded several Belgian border crossings and demonstrations took hold in neighbouring Germany.

With traffic still paralysed in the heart of Brussels, Belgian lorry drivers extended their grip to other parts of the country, spreading disruption further into Flanders and cutting off the port of Antwerp.

Truckers blocked the main motorway linking Belgium with Germany and reduced to a crawl traffic heading to the French city of Lille. The motorway between Belgium and Maastricht in the Netherlands was completely blocked, and the cities of Nivelles, Mons, Charleroi and Liege were all affected.

Talks with ministers continued, despite an offer from the government to study concessions and the near-agreement of a deal on Tuesday.

The extension of the action prompted the European Commission to warn the Belgian government that it was obliged under law to ensure the free movement of goods within the Union.

Signs of growing militancy appeared in Germany, where protesters in the city of Schwerin, Mecklenburg-Eastern Pomerania, closed main roads with trucks and tractors before the Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, addressed local business leaders. Mr Schröder was heckled by about 500 protesters.

In Munich, demonstrators drove two dozen tractors, buses and trucks to the local headquarters of Germany's governing parties, the Social Democrats and Greens, to demand lower fuel taxes, flying banners reading "Stop the rip-off" and "Down with the oil tax." In Berlin, taxi companies said they were considering adding a surcharge to fares because of high petrol prices.

Haulage firms met in Frankfurt to debate fresh action to wring concessions from Mr Schröder similar to those offered in France last week in response to road blockades.

Meanwhile Irish lorry drivers promised a "go slow" protest around the Republic's main cities tomorrow unless the Government cut tax on fuel by a third. More than 1,000 members of the Irish Road Haulage Association will drive in conveys at less than 25mph on main roads in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford.

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