Truckers protesting high gas tax block refineries and fuel depots around France

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The Independent Online

French truck drivers, joined by farmers and some ambulances, today blocked oil refineries and depots around France to press the government to lower the petrol tax, raising the specter of fuel shortages should the movement continue.

French truck drivers, joined by farmers and some ambulances, today blocked oil refineries and depots around France to press the government to lower the petrol tax, raising the specter of fuel shortages should the movement continue.

The impending movement had people stocking up at pumps on Sunday so as not to be caught short.

By Monday, hundreds of trucks were blocking at least three petrol depots and refineries in the North and Pas de Calais region of northwest France, the two main depots in the Bordeaux region, depots and refineries around Bayonne in southwest France, seven depots and refineries in eastern France around Nancy and at least four sites around Lyon as well as scattered depots and refineries in southeast France and south of Paris.

Only the Paris region, known as the Ile de France, was spared by the protest movement.

The Transport Ministry said Sunday that negotiations with truck drivers' unions were ongoing, but truckers denied that. They said talks expected to start overnight had been suspended to get ready for the blockades.

French truckers say the cost of diesel fuel has risen 40 percent in the past year to about 4.7 francs per liter, compared to a current average of 2.9 francs per liter in the United States. After Britain, France has the highest fuel taxes in the European Union.

Unlike fishermen, farmers and taxi drivers, truck drivers receive little compensation for fuel taxes. They say fuel costs them 7 per cent of their revenues, when it should amount to only 2 per cent.

The movement followed a week of protests by fishermen. Although their fuel is not taxed, they sought reductions and other measures to ease the crunch caused by soaring gas prices worldwide. The government gave way, extending benefits already accorded.

On Thursday, French Finance Minister Laurent Fabius announced measures to ease fuel taxes, but truckers and farmers said they did not go far enough and called for new protests.

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