Truckers and farmers descended on Brussels Wednesday in protests over the soaring cost of fuel ahead of a summit of EU leaders which will seek ways to ease the pain of record oil prices.
Police blocked off many roads around the city as some 175 trucks, honking their horns, paraded along major roads circling the centre of the Belgian capital.
However, the cortege did not cause as much chaos on the roads as the Belgian press had speculated. Many Belgians opted to leave their cars and come to work using public transport or simply stay home.
Farmers driving 400-500 tractors, mainly from Belgium's southern French-speaking half, congregated near Brussels' EU quarter, where Europe's leaders are due to meet at a summit on Thursday focused in large part on oil prices.
"With oil at 140 dollars a barrel and maybe soon at 200, we can't get by any more," said Frederic Hardy, the boss of a small transport firm in southern Belgium.
Hauliers, many locked into annual contracts, want more flexibility to pass on the cost of higher fuel prices to clients, according to Michael Reul, who heads the UPTR trade association that organised the protest.
The association, which is also seeking cuts in social security contributions and taxes, was due to meet on Thursday with Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme, who has already signalled that little can be done.
Along with fishermen, truckers have led protests across Europe in recent weeks against soaring fuel costs, lifted by record crude oil prices as high as 139.89 dollars a barrel on Monday.
Although farmers benefit from booming agriculture commodities prices, they are upset that the cost of such things as fertilizer and feed are skyrocketing along with the rising fuel prices.
"We're seeing huge increases in our costs. Fifty percent in one year for fertilizer, 30 percent for feed," said Jose Deckers, who has a dairy farm in eastern Belgium.
Farmers are also angry that they cannot pass on the increase in the costs to consumers because of pressure from hypermarkets to keep their prices down.
A delegation of farmers was also to meet Wednesday with EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel to press for the European minimum price system to be maintained.
Despite the growing calls for action on fuel prices, protesters were unlikely to get much satisfaction with leaders expected to make only vague recommendations for "short-term and targeted" measures, according to draft conclusions obtained by AFP.