Brazil truckers strike enters sixth day

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) –


A truckers strike that has paralyzed Brazil entered its sixth day Saturday as government troops slowly cleared roads of barricades in a bid to break the impasse.

The strike over a hike in diesel prices has caused widespread fuel shortages that have shut down urban transportation systems, crippled industries and sent prices of food and fuel soaring.

In a televised address Friday, President Michel Temer declared he had "mobilized the security forces" to clear the roads.

"We are not going to permit that the population does not have access to essential goods... that hospitals do not have necessary medicines to save lives," he said.

Cabinet Secretary Carlos Marun, speaking after a cabinet meeting Saturday, said authorities were seeking arrest warrants for trucking companies that "lock out" employees.

By Saturday, government troops had begun escorting fuel trucks to open access to refineries, principally in Duque de Caxias, near Rio de Janeiro.

The Defense Ministry said 132 of 519 barricades had been cleared on roads around the vast South American country.

But gas stations have run dry and supplies of perishable produce were increasingly scarce in stores.

The Sao Paulo union of fuel distributors said 99 percent of the gas stations in Brazil's industrial capital were out of fuel and it would take up to a week to return to normal once the strike is ended.

Sao Paulo mayor Bruno Covas, who declared a state of emergency on Friday, said the situation in his city was "serious, but under control."

- 'Generalized irresponsibility' -

In Rio, the agency that runs a network of articulated buses that link numerous working class neighborhoods said the service has been "interrupted for an undetermined period of time" because of fuel shortages.

A lack of fuel also forced the cancellation of flights from Brasilia, paralyzed auto assembly plants, and reduced the operations of the refrigerated storage industry.

But in Brasilia most roads were open by Saturday and some gas stations had been to be resupplied.

In an editorial on Saturday, the daily O Estado de Sao Paulo blamed the state of affairs on a "generalized irresponsibility" both on the part of the strikers and the government, which it said acted "too slowly."

With five months to go before October's presidential election, the strike has further eroded the stature of an unpopular center-right government.

On Friday, Temer blamed the road closures and ensuing chaos on "a radical minority," who had defied a 15 day truce agreed the day before with several truckers unions.

"The negotiations are over. Now we are waiting for the terms of the agreement to be respected," said Eliseu Padilha, the chief of government.

After Temer's announcement, the Brazilian Truckers Association, which represents 600,000 independent truckers, said it was concerned about the safety of drivers, and urged them to protest peacefully, without blocking roads.

Various union leaders have criticized the decision to use the army as "an instrument of repression," likening it to "an attempt to put out a fire with gasoline."

Amnesty International also denounced it, insisting that the army's role was not "to put an end to demonstrations or strikes."