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Europe fuel protests spread wider


Lt_Ripley

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Europe fuel protests spread wider

Flemish fishermen protest in Brussels outside European Parliament

Belgian fishermen have been protesting directly to the EU

Fuel protests triggered by rising oil prices have spread to more countries across Europe, with thousands of fishermen on strike.

Union leaders said Portugal's entire coastal fleet stayed in port on Friday, while in Spain, 7,000 fishermen held protests at the agriculture ministry.

French fishermen have been protesting for weeks, with Belgian and Italian colleagues also involved.

UK and Dutch lorry drivers held similar protests earlier this week.

The strike reflects anger at the rising cost of fuel, with oil prices above $130 (83.40 euros; £65.80) a barrel.

Trade unions say the cost of diesel has become prohibitively high, after rising 300% over the past five years.

Wholesale fish prices, meanwhile, have been static for 20 years.

Map showing countries involved in protest

Fishermen's leaders from France, Spain and Italy have been meeting in Paris to co-ordinate strikes and protests over the next three weeks in the run-up to a European Union fisheries ministers' meeting.

The protesters are calling for direct immediate aid for the fisheries industry, coupled with increased subsidies.

The European Commission said in a statement it was willing to show flexibility towards the industry but it has ruled out subsidies to offset rising fuel costs.

Short-term aid packages were acceptable as long as they were used to address structural deficiencies in the fleets, it said.

'Ruin for fishermen'

Several thousand fishermen marched on the agriculture ministry in Madrid, where they handed out 20 tonnes of fresh fish to members of the public in an attempt to draw attention to their ailing industry.

Many blew whistles and klaxons, and let off firecrackers producing red smoke.

The BBC's Steve Kingstone at the protest said he could see flags from Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia.

One banner read: "Soaring diesel plus cheap fish equals ruin for fishermen." Another chided Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero: "You are sending us to the cemetery."

One union leader in Barcelona said the country's fishing fleet was at a standstill.

"Compliance is total. The entire Spanish coast is at a halt," Jose Caparros told AFP news agency.

The unions also say they could blockade ports, a day after French police forcibly removed fishermen blocking oil depots.

"We must mobilise like the French and if we have to block ports, we'll block them," Xavier Aboy, a union leader in Galicia, told AFP.

In France the authorities have offered 100m euros in aid, prompting some fishermen to return to work.

At dawn on Thursday, French riot police cleared protesters from the Mediterranean oil depots of Fos-sur-Mer and Lavera, and a Total refinery at La Mede in the south.

On the same day police clashed with fishermen who burned tyres in the Atlantic port of Lorient, while hundreds protested in Quimper, Brittany.

On Friday, protesters blockaded the Channel port of Le Havre.

Hundreds of farmers have also been blocking oil terminals near the cities of Dijon and Toulouse.

In Italy, at least 5,000 fishermen are expected to strike, the main trade union Federcoopesca says. The government has already refused emergency aid to the industry.

But the BBC's David Willey in Rome says many fishermen are adopting a wait-and-see policy as talks with the government continue, and in the Adriatic ports the response to the strike has been mixed.

"No boats went out" in Portugal, a union leader there said, and in the central port of Peniche boat owners set up a barrier to prevent unloading.

Bulgarian bus drivers are also planning a one-hour strike on Friday, following protests by lorry drivers on Wednesday.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7426971.stm

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