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Fresh Europe fuel protests flare as others end
LONDON, England -- Demonstrations over fuel prices have begun to crack in Britain and Belgium -- but a fresh wave of protests has flared in other parts of Europe.
Drivers in Spain, Poland and Ireland are all due to begin campaigns of direct action on Friday, while there is no sign of an end to demonstrations in Germany, where the first oil refinery blockades have been mounted.
Protests in Belgium were called off on Thursday night after a similar move in the UK, though British officials admit it could still take two or three weeks to get the country back to normal even though oil tankers are now rolling again.
The military will help deliver fuel to emergency services after the week-long protest led to the closure of thousands of petrol stations and food rationing in some supermarkets.
The British blockades ended despite Prime Minister Tony Blair refusing to back down to demands for cuts in the taxes which make fuel in the UK more expensive than anywhere else in Europe.
David Hanley, from the group Farmers for Action, told CNN International he and his colleagues ended their campaign because they felt they had made their point and did not wish to risk losing the public support they had enjoyed.
"Let's see if we can get some dialogue going now to sort out the problem that we were protesting about," he said.
In Belgium hauliers accepted a government package that fell far short of what they had demanded, saying the Belgian people had suffered enough.
A five-day blockade paralysed traffic, closed businesses and schools and hit emergency services.
The Belgian protesters had been demanding a 15 percent cut in fuel taxes, but instead accepted a package of social and fiscal measures to compensate for the rising costs of fuel.
Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt insisted he would not be held to ransom and made a televised national address saying: "The people's patience is at its end. Our economy, the prosperity of our people, is in danger."
Spain fears crisis
But in Spain, CNN's Al Goodman says the end of the blockades in Britain and Belgium has done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of protesters. Barcelona is to be the first target of Spanish lorry drivers and farmers during the Friday morning rush-hour.
Goodman says feelings are running high following a 30 percent hike in the price of diesel over the past year and calls Friday's action "just the beginning."
One Spanish government minister has already described the situation as the country's worst fuel crisis since the 1970s.
In Italy, the government headed off protests by agreeing to cut the price of diesel by around 120 lira per litre. Ministers also agreed to monitor prices in the next three months in order to ensure that they do not rise regardless of fluctuations in oil prices.
Meanwhile motorists in Ireland rushed to fill up their tanks on Thursday after the failure of talks between the government and the Irish Road Haulage Association.
The IRHA wants fuel tax cut by a third -- to the EU-recommended minimum -- and is vowing to proceed with go-slow convoys on key national and urban routes on Friday. The protests will focus on Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Galway and Limerick.
IRHA President Gerry McMahon said trucks would converge on those cities from a radius of about 40 miles (65 km) outside, but he insisted drivers did not plan to blockade city centres.
In Poland, the Association of International Hauliers has called for a one-day slowdown on Friday.
But the country's Interior Minister Marke Biernacki is warning that the government will take a tough line against any demonstrators who break the law.
He said on state television that the government aimed to ensure that action "does not paralyse the state."
Truck drivers in Greece added their voices to the chorus of protests on Thursday, saying they will go an on indefinite strike on September 25.
Three labour federations pledged to join the walkout, which threatens the transport of goods and fuel.
Protests were also reported in Sweden and the Netherlands.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder says he is adamant he will not give in to demands for fuel tax cuts, even though protests there appear to be escalating.
Around 1,000 truck drivers and farmers brought the northern city of Hanover to a standstill on Thursday. Another 400 vehicles jammed the centre of Magdeburg.
Demonstrators blocked the main entrance to one refinery near the Dutch border, causing queues of oil tankers several miles long outside.
Separate demonstrations temporarily paralysed refineries near Hamburg and the North Sea port of Wilhelmshaven.
The main road into Belgium from Aachen was blocked for a second day.
World leaders are said to be putting pressure on the oil producers to ease the international crisis.
The German edition of the Financial Times says finance ministers from the Group of Seven industrial nations would, at Britain's instigation, urge the OPEC oil-producing cartel to act to reduce prices in the next few days.
OPEC president Ali Rodriguez said the group could pump all its spare capacity -- an extra two million barrels a day -- within two months if necessary to reduce crude prices from current 10-year highs.
Reuters contributed to this report.
First British fuel blockade ends
The European Union
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