PARIS - France has asked the European Union for permission to give money to fishermen who have been blockading ports in protest against rising fuel costs, Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier said on Tuesday.
Fishermen resumed their blockade of roads leading out of the country's largest oil port, Fos-Lavera near Marseille, union sources said. Port workers at Fos-Lavera were also on strike over a separate issue, the government's plan to reform ports.
Oil industry sources said five oil tankers were blocked from loading or unloading due to the strike.
"The tools I have prepared to help the fishermen must be approved by Brussels, it's essential," said Barnier, who went to Brussels for talks with EU officials on Monday.
The government had announced a three-year aid package for fishermen worth 310 million euros ($483 million) in January and Barnier suggested the handouts should be accelerated to help fishermen cope with the dramatic increase in fuel prices.
"I'm expecting an authorisation from Brussels in the coming hours. I don't want to be the minister whose cheques to fishermen will bounce," he told RTL radio station.
Barnier is due to meet on Wednesday with fishermen who are demanding help to cushion the effects of rising marine diesel fuel prices, driven higher by record oil prices of more than $125 a barrel.
News reports on radio stations suggested about 20 ports were again hit by fishermen's protests on Tuesday morning.
They started blockading three ports on the Atlantic coast last week and the protests spread to several other ports on the Atlantic, Channel and Mediterranean coastlines on Monday.
Oil giant Total said its refineries were operating normally because they were well-supplied and the disruptions at Fos-Lavera were sporadic.
"The strikes and blockade have not affected our operations for the moment," a spokesman said.