Europeans Protest Rocketing Fuel Prices
Spanish truck drivers smashed windscreens and Portuguese truckers blocked roads on Monday as protests over rocketing global fuel prices spread across Europe.
The Spanish and Portuguese drivers began an indefinite strike, and there were also protests across the border in France over the impact of high oil prices, now at record highs of over $139 per barrel.
Spaniards fearing fuel shortages queued to fill up at petrol stations, exhausting supplies in some places.
Long lines formed at Spanish and Portuguese supermarkets after truckers said they would run out of fresh food within days.
Lines of trucks up to 5 miles (8 km) long formed on the French side of the border after Spanish picketers smashed the windscreens and lights of goods drivers who tried to defy the strike by entering Spain.
"No one is earning enough money to eat any more: not the truckers, not the fishermen, nobody, and someone has to find a solution," said Jaime Diaz, president of Spain's National Road Transport Confederation.
Spanish strikers blockaded distribution centres in their call for the government to establish a minimum haulage fee to counter a 35 percent rise in fuel costs over the past 12 months.
In France, truckers stopped lorries from entering Spain in the border town of Perthus, and 200 lorries slowed traffic into Bordeaux to demand the government allow truckers to buy diesel at a discounted price.
In Portugal, one group of truckers threatened to block the main roads running south to the Algarve tourist region to prevent goods reaching the area.
Demonstrations and strikes across Asia have already forced fast-growing countries such as India, Malaysia and Indonesia to raise fuel subsidies to ease the pain of high prices.
Police used water cannon and batons in Kashmir on Monday to disperse hundreds of government workers protesting over fuel price rises, while a general strike shut down the northeastern state of Assam.
Surging prices have pushed inflation to record highs in Asia and the 15-member euro zone, forcing central banks to threaten to raise interest rates.
Hard Hit Spain
Few places in Europe are suffering more than Spain, the euro zone's fourth largest economy, where truckers and fishermen have been hit by soaring fuel costs just as Spain sinks into its worst economic downturn in 15 years.
Spanish consumer demand is shrivelling as the end of a decade-long housing boom coincides with the global credit crunch and soaring inflation.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero on Saturday blamed the European Central Bank for a recent jump in oil prices and market interest rates, saying its president, Jean Claude Trichet, had to show more prudence.
Trichet last week warned that interest rates could be raised next month.
Zapatero has offered truckers credit lines and voluntary retirement packages but says they will have to adapt to fierce competition in a contracting market.
The worst hit are mostly small firms and self-employed drivers, while large hauliers have kept working.
Strike leaders have dismissed the government proposals and want price guarantees to stop large firms undercutting them.
Spain's Development Ministry said it would present measures on Wednesday to take the sting out of fuel price rises, and saw a chance of reaching a deal with the truckers by midweek.