Europe seeks relief as oil pressure mounts
European governments faced intense pressure Monday to assuage popular anger over fuel costs, but relief was nowhere in sight as protests continued and fresh Gulf tensions inflated prices to 10-year highs.
Oil depots and ports were blockaded by angry truckers, fishermen and other commercial fuel consumers in parts of Scandinavia, central Europe and Spain, while similar disruptions were threatened in Israel for Tuesday.
As sporadic demonstrations continued to crop up on parts of the continent, the price of the world benchmark Brent North Sea crude oil was quoted in London at 34.65 dollars, its highest level since the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
The surge in the price of oil came as tensions between the two Gulf oil-producing neighbors flared again over a territorial dispute, and analysts said an Iraqi threat to stop pumping oil was contributing to the price rise.
In Germany, finance ministry officials said the centre-left government was expected to decide soon on measures to lighten the burden of high gasoline prices on consumers and truckers.
And in London, where fuel supplies began returning to normal after last week's nationwide blockades, a British government task force met for the first time to thrash out how to avoid a repeat of the chaos.
In France, where concessions last week calmed the protests that kicked off the Europe-wide action against high fuel prices, Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin found himself under mounting pressure as opinion polls confirmed a slump in his popularity.
With two surveys reporting a drop of around 20 points in Jospin's ratings in two months, overwhelming public support for oil protesters appeared to reflect a growing demand by the public for general cuts in taxation to take account of the country's improving economic performance.
While only a scattering of protests were to be found in France on Monday, blockades swept across other parts of Europe, hitting Norway, Sweden, Finland, Slovenia and Spain.
In Norway, truckers and car drivers blocked the 11 main oil depots in the country's south and west for several hours, lifting the blockades after the state-owned oil company, Statoil, which owns three of the targetted depots, filed a complaint.
Even though Norway is one of the world's largest oil exporters, its prices at the pump are among Europe's highest. Road haulage groups and motorists want diesel and petrol prices cut to seven kroner (0.87 euros, 0.75 dollars) per litre (0.26 gallons), down from the more than 10 kroner currently asked at the pump.
In Spain, about 30 fishing boats blocked the port of the northeastern Catalan city of Barcelona on Monday. Passenger ferries had to be rerouted to the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean because of the blockade.
Farmers and truck drivers also blocked access to four main oil terminals in the centre of the country, as talks were scheduled for later Monday between the government and farmers' unions.
Spain's two largest farmers' unions called upon their members to stage a go-slow in 12 of the country's 17 regions on Tuesday, while the union for taxi drivers pressed for a national strike on October 3.
An alliance of fishermen, farmers, truckers and consumer groups have announced blockades of the Mediterranean port of Valencia next Friday, and of the capital Madrid on September 25, while the National Road Haulage Committee (CNTC) called a 72-hour truckers' strike for October 2.
In Finland, several dozen trucks blocked access to the southern Porvoo refinery for three hours before lifting the blockade, the federation of Finnish road transporters (FTF) said.
In Sweden, truckers blocked the Gothenburg port in the southwest and said some 400 lorries were expected to be involved in the action by evening. Four Stockholm ports were also blocked for cargo and fuel deliveries.
Oil companies operating in Sweden said they feared customers would begin stocking up on supplies and said Gothenburg's pumps would likely run dry first.
In Israel, truckers threatened to block major highways and disrupt fuel supplies on Tuesday.—AFP.
©--Agence France Presse.
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)
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