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Brazil truckers strike for third day over fuel prices

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Rio de Janeiro (AFP)

A Brazil-wide truck strike to protest rising fuel costs entered a third day Wednesday, causing traffic jams, snarling commercial deliveries, and even delaying the mail.

Road blocks were erected in at least 17 of the 27 states, the Federal Highway Police said.

The transport difficulties led to increased fruit and vegetable prices in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, the G1 news site reported.

Brasilia's international airport was reportedly worried about planes not getting refueled, while gas stations in Rio de Janeiro were already running short.

"There is a shortage in practically all the stations that we have checked. In some they'll run out today and others have only enough until Friday," said a spokesman for the Rio fuel trade union.

In another knock-on effect, the national post office said it had to suspend express deliveries because they could no longer be guaranteed.

Truck drivers want a reduction in diesel prices, which giant state oil company Petrobras has been raising since late 2016 in line with increases in crude prices on the international market. The average cost of refinery diesel, before tax, has risen 12 percent this month and petrol 14 percent.

The drivers' discontent adds to pressure on President Michel Temer's lame-duck government ahead of October general elections and threatens the politically sensitive policy, introduced only at the end of 2016, to give Petrobras autonomy over its price setting.

On Tuesday, Finance Minister Eduardo Guardia announced that the government was willing to help the industry by lifting a diesel tax, provided that Congress was able to balance the revenue gap elsewhere.

Valor newspaper reported that the main union, the Association of Brazilian Truckers, would meet with government ministers later Wednesday to try and negotiate a solution.

"As long as the government doesn't take effective measures, we firmly demand demonstrations in every region of the country," union president Jose da Fonseca Lopes said.

For one trucker, Paulo Sergio Ribeiro Ramos, snarling up the roads is the only way to get his voice heard.

"Gas has gone up, diesel has gone up, the road tolls have gone up and the bills have gone up," the 43-year-old driver told AFP on a highway outside Rio de Janeiro. "If we don't demonstrate, we will end up unemployed."

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