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European Union: Emergency Meeting of Transport Ministers Set for this Week

Aired September 18, 2000 - 2:40 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Emergency talks are scheduled for midweek between transport ministers of the European Union. At issue: the high prices at the gas pumps, which have set off protests across Europe. Last week, you may recall, parts of Britain were nearly paralyzed by a truckers' blockade.

An update now from CNN's Margaret Lowrie.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARGARET LOWRIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the fuel situation here returns to near normal, the government is scrambling to try and make sure it doesn't happen again. Top of the list: a task force bringing together the government, police and oil companies to look at ways to avert the disruption of petrol supplies in any future protest.

JACK STRAW, BRITISH HOME SECRETARY: We plainly have lessons to learn, ourselves and the oil companies, about what happened, particularly at the beginning of the last week. So we've got to draw on those lessons.

LOWRIE: The government wants emergency legislation to place the oil companies under the kind of statutory obligations that ensure the supply of services such as electricity, water and gas in times of crisis. Opposition politicians say a review of emergency legislation is not enough.

WILLIAM HAGUE, BRITISH OPPOSITION LEADER: If they think that will be an adequate response to the dissatisfaction of taxpayers around the country, then they are making yet another mistake on top of all the mistakes that they made last week. The solution to this is not to give the government more power. It's for the government to stop being arrogant, out of touch and incompetent.

LOWRIE: The political fallout for the government continues. Weekend polls gave the opposition Conservative Party its best standing in eight years: either neck-in-neck with the labor government, or even ahead. The last time that happened, John Major was prime minister. Government officials are trying to put the best spin on it.

STEPHEN BYERS, BRITISH TRADE MINISTER: Well, clearly, the polls have reflected what's been a testing week for the government. I happen to believe that it would have been a lot worse had the government given way to the protesters. The polls that will count are obviously the ones that take place at the general election.

LOWRIE: Meanwhile, the government has another worrying deadline: Fuel protesters vow to return in two months' time if petrol prices aren't cut. With little likelihood of that, the government must find a way before then to ensure they can keep the petrol and the country moving.

Margaret Lowrie, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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