Mounting oil prices spark protests across Europe

Fishermen and truck drivers angered by the rise in oil prices mounted crippling strikes in France, England, and now Spain, as France 24's Adeline Percept and Clément Perrouault report from Barcelona.


French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday called for a Europe-wide cut in oil taxes to help consumers, as fuel price strikes by fishermen and truck drivers spread across the continent.

As French riot police cleared blockading fishermen from an oil depot, in London hundreds of angry haulage truckers drove their lorries in a rolling protest through the centre of the capital, horns blaring, before handing in a petition to Downing Street demanding a rebate in fuel tax.

In Spain lorry drivers joined striking fishermen in calling for the government help to cover soaring fuel costs, before road transport firm bosses meet transport ministry officials to air their grievances.

Italian, Greek and Portuguese fishermen may strike later this week.

"I want to ask the question to our European partners: if oil continues to increase, should we not suspend the VAT taxation on the price of oil?" Sarkozy said in a radio interview.

The effect of skyrocketing fuel prices on fishermen has steadily gained attention throughout the continent, and European ministers on Tuesday called for direct EU economic aid to the industry.

French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier, on the sidelines of an informal meeting of his EU counterparts in Slovenia, said other EU ministers had agreed that "a budget should be earmarked" for economic assistance to fishermen.

Spanish Agriculture Minister Elena Espinosa Mangana called for direct EU intervention.

Sarkozy's government has already promised a 310 million euro (485 million dollar) emergency aid plan for French fishing fleets.

Portugal's economy minister Manuel Pinho on Tuesday wrote to the Slovenian head of the European Union to hold an urgent debate on how to respond to high oil prices, to identify "short- and long-term measures that could minimise the negative effect of the escalation in oil prices".

On Tuesday the price of a barrel of crude oil dipped slightly in New York, down to 130.27 dollars a barrel, from last Thursday's high of 135 dollars.

Sarkozy's proposal came amid three weeks of protests from fishermen and pressure to address France's cost of living, with polls showing it a top concern among the public.

French consumers pay about 19.6 percent VAT on the price of fuel.

Sarkozy said he could not take a unilateral decision to suspend or cap the tax. But he warned that the price of oil "is going to continue to increase."

Sarkozy said France would channel additional revenue from VAT on oil products into a fund to help those struggling with higher fuel prices. He predicted it would generate 150-170 million euros per quarter.

Meanwhile, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the country must boost its nuclear power to address the problem, adding that "we are dealing with a long-term increase of the price of oil."

A European Commission spokesman warned against tinkering with VAT on oil, as the French president suggested.

"We would be saying that we can raise oil prices and this will be paid for by the taxes of Europeans. This would, in principle, be a very bad signal that we do not want to send," the spokesman on energy issues said.

Riot police peacefully cleared striking French fishermen from an oil depot at Fos-sur-Mer near Marseille, as fleets resumed blockades of ports and cross-Channel ferries over high fuel prices.

Fishermen have staged three weeks of protests over diesel prices and many have rejected the government offer of aid.

In addition to the London truck drivers' protest, about 100 lorries protested in Wales.

A delegation handed in a letter to the office of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who faces mounting pressure from lawmakers in his ruling Labour Party to abandon a planned hike in road tax.

British truck owners say they face unfair competition from continental haulers who they say can buy cheaper fuel.

Spanish lorry drivers joined fishermen in calling for the government to help cover soaring fuel costs. Representatives of road transport firms met with transport ministry officials to discuss the grievances.

One association, Fenadismer, threatened to launch a strike on June 8 unless the government gives compensation.

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