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Italy truck strike ends -- for now

  • Story Highlights
  • Government says Italian truckers' strike is over
  • Unions say strike suspended while an offer is considered
  • Truckers want more money to compensate for rising gas prices
  • Strike closed some gas stations; some supermarkets running short of supplies
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ROME, Italy (CNN) -- A strike by Italian truck drivers that has caused shortages of food, fuel and medicine across the country has ended -- at least for now.

A spokesman for Italy's government told CNN the strike was called off after a Wednesday meeting between government and labor leaders in which the government made an offer to settle truckers' grievances.

"We can report that in the coming hours the country can return to complete normalcy," Enrico Letta, undersecretary for Prime Minister Romano Prodi, said in announcing the end of the strike. "It was a difficult and complicated negotiation."

Representatives for labor unions represented in the strike, however, said the strike has merely been suspended.

They said union leaders wanted to talk to members before accepting what was described as a "take it or leave it" offer from the government.

Truckers are demanding more money to compensate for rising fuel prices, which in Italy is mostly a result of taxes.

Truck drivers had defied a government order Wednesday to halt what they had said would be a five-day strike.

Organizers of the strike, which began early Monday morning, said participation was massive, with 99 percent of trucking companies taking part. The strike was scheduled to last until midnight Friday.

Already gas stations have been closed for lack of fuel, and supermarkets -- mostly those in large cities -- have shortages of produce and dairy goods.

Trucks carrying fuel and medicines for hospitals and pharmacies have been let through, but pharmacists warned there could be shortages of medicine in the long run.

Italy's Transport Ministry demanded the strikers return to work Wednesday because of "damages to the community," but the truck drivers said they would continue striking.

Pasquale Russo, head of Conftrasporto, the nation's largest association of trucking companies, said some unions agreed to the government's terms -- which have not yet been disclosed -- while others did not.

He said some truckers remained unhappy Wednesday with the government's offer and had not returned to work.

Some 150,000 trucking companies are taking part in the strike, leaving 600,000 trucks idle, according to Conftrasporto. The government released no figures.

Highways are essential to Italian commerce, accounting for the transport of 84 percent of its goods.

Conftrasporto calculated that if the strike were to continue for the full five days, the Italian economy would suffer damages of 2.5 billion euros ($3.7 billion). But the labor association defended the action by pointing out it would still supply hospitals, pharmacies, and emergency services.

"Of course we are sorry that we are creating some hardship, but if we don't do it this way, no one will take us seriously," said striking truck driver Massimiliano Antonini.

International trucking routes are affected as well. British driver Brian Briggs, stuck since Tuesday, needed to deliver art to northern Italy and then head back to London.

"The company will lose money because they have to pay me for sitting here, doing nothing," Briggs said.

The protest has mostly been peaceful, though police reported a few arrests of striking drivers beating those who refused to participate. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN Producer Flavia Taggiasco and Correspondent Alessio Vinci contributed to this report.

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