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Week-long Brazil trucker strike leaves food, fuel scarce

© AFP | Members of the Brazilian Military Police and Sao Paulo's traffic police stand beside a truck with its windscreen reading "military intervention", during an operation to clear a road blocked by striking truckers

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - 

Brazil faced serious supply disruptions on the seventh day of a truckers' strike Sunday, although the government said the country was "on a path to normalization."

Brazilian authorities have deployed the military to clear barricades erected by strikers and have been escorting fuel trucks since Friday to maintain access to refineries.

But federal transportation police reported that as of Saturday night, nearly 600 roads were at least partially blocked throughout the sprawling South American country.

Gas stations were virtually all out of fuel, and perishable foods were disappearing from store shelves.

"We are on a path to normalization," said Sergio Etchegoyen, the Minister of Institutional Security, who added: "It's not quick."

Brazil is a member of the G20 group of the world's largest emerging and advanced economies, but the first five days of the strike were estimated to have cost the country's economy $2.8 billion, according to the daily Folha de Sao Paulo.

The truckers have attempted to put a stranglehold on movement of goods in Brazil to protest increases in fuel prices.

Prices have risen under a politically sensitive decision made in late 2016 to allow the state-run Petrobras oil giant autonomy to set its pricing.

The rise in world oil prices in recent weeks has also been a factor.

The truckers' determination has been a heavy blow to President Michel Temer's center-right government, five months ahead of the presidential election.

Trucks move 60 percent of the goods that are transported in Brazil, and a protracted strike could cause havoc as it emerges from a 2015-16 recession.

On Saturday, Temer issued a decree authorizing the seizure of private vehicles "necessary for the transport of goods considered essential by the authorities."

"Brazil will not be held hostage and the government of President Temer is determined to use all its resources to guarantee this," Public Security Minister Raul Jungmann said.

Priority is being given to airports, power plants, and the supply of medical facilities, where the system for transferring organs for transplant was paralyzed by the strike.

In Rio, the city's articulated bus system was partially disrupted because of a lack of fuel.

Bus lines in other states were also forced to shut on Saturday.

Service was restored after fuel trucks arrived, but buses were operating at 20 percent capacity on Sunday.

In most big Brazilian cities, only emergency bus service functioned on Sunday, to save fuel for the start of the work week on Monday, when state universities have announced they will be closed.

© 2018 AFP