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Lorry drivers paralyse northern Spain

The northern half of Spain was paralysed yesterday by a lorrydrivers' strike that unions said would spread throughout the country in coming days.

As the strike, in support of better working conditions, entered its second week, factories in the industrialised Basque country closed through lack of supplies and shops were stripped of foodstuffs as shoppers stocked up. The government appealed for the drivers to negotiate and indicated that they would increase the subsidy to gasoil, one of their key demands. But last night ministers sounded a pessimistic note.

Some 50 British lorrydrivers were stuck in Bilbao and 10 had to be escorted by police through picket lines. Representatives from the development, labour, economy and industry ministries met some transport associations yesterday, but the leading union, Fedatrans, which called the strike, refused to join them.

In the most serious incident in the dispute so far a picket was run over near Burgos and killed yesterday morning when he ran into the road to stop a French trucker from passing.

In addition to reducing the retirement age to 60 years from 65, drivers are pushing for diesel subsidies, a revision of rates and recognition of occupational illnesses. The responsible minister, Rafael Arias Salgado, said he might move on lower diesel prices but needed more time to consider the other issues. The Interior Ministry ordered security forces to guarantee essential supplies to towns.

Car manufacturers were worst hit by the strike. Renault's Spanish unit FASA-Renault stopped production at plants in Valladolid and Palencia. In the Basque region, Michelin said it would be paralysed if the strike continued. Mercedez-Benz shut its plants in Barcelona and Vitoria, while production at General Motors unit Opel in Aragon, Citroen in Vigo and Nissan in Barcelona also stopped. Other companies including Firestone, Campofrio, and Asturiana del Zinc said they had been disrupted by a lack of supplies.

One driver was slightly injured on Wednesday when he was hit on the head by a stone while trying to fill up his truck at a petrol station in the Leon province. Pickets were also injured in clashes with police.

Fedatrans warned the chaos would worsen and said it had brought another leading union on board, Fenadismer, while others were mulling a call to workers to take action.

Taxi driver unions are also contemplating joining the strike from Monday. Fedatrans said the only solution would be for the government to agree swiftly to their demands.