Fuel Protests, Strikes Spread, Pressure Governments

Protests against surging fuel prices which have triggered fears of political instability and a global economic downturn expanded in Asia Tuesday, with Colombian truckers joining the wave of strikes and a South Korean labor union announcing a fresh strike scheduled for next month.

Truck drivers block the border in Spain with France, Tuesday, June 10, 2008. Thousands of Spanish truckers began an indefinite strike over soaring fuel costs . (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Manu Fernandez
Truck drivers block the border in Spain with France, Tuesday, June 10, 2008. Thousands of Spanish truckers began an indefinite strike over soaring fuel costs . (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Protests by truckers, fishermen and other groups particularly vulnerable to rising energy costs have swept across countries from India and South Korea in recent weeks. Widening public anger has pushed oil prices to the top of the policy agenda in many states.

A major South Korean labor group announced a one-day strike for July in protest against President Lee Myung-bak's economic reform plans, adding pressure on the embattled leader facing calls for his ouster.

The move by the more than 600,000-strong, militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, which represents auto, healthcare and financial service workers, comes as Lee is trying to resolve a truckers' strike over soaring fuel costs that has paralyzed the export-dependent country's ports.

"We will be going on a full-out strike for one day on July 2," a KCTU spokesman said by telephone. "Following that, individual member unions will be holding separate strikes."

About 70 percent of its members voted to strike against Lee's privatization plans, pro-business economic reforms and the deal his government signed to resume imports of U.S. beef, the group said in a statement.

The labor union at Hyundai Motor, which is one of the largest single unions making up KCTU, said it would join the KCTU strike.

Repeated talks between the government and striking truckers have broken down, while movement of cargo containers virtually ground to a halt, clogging up ports.

Lee has faced more than a month of daily protests against his decision to allow imports of U.S. beef and the rallies have grown to criticize a wide range of his policies.

Colombia Truckers Strike Over Fuel Costs, Freight

Colombian truck drivers went on strike on Monday to protest high fuel prices, tolls and freight payments, but the government said the shutdown would have only limited impact as many drivers kept working.

Colombian truckers joined demonstrations by transporters from Europe to Asia who are demanding help in managing costs as world oil prices soar to record highs.

President Alvaro Uribe planned to meet with the striking drivers to work out an agreement to end the protest. But the government said so far the strike had a minimal effect on deliveries to ports and supply centers.

The Colombian Truckers Association said around 140,000 vehicles had joined the strike, which started at midnight on Sunday after talks with the transport ministry fell apart. But the government disputed those figures.

"We will start to feel the impact of this from Tuesday onwards," truck drivers' association president Nemesio Castillo told reporters.

Freight agreements, fuel costs, toll prices and access to credits were among the points the truckers wanted to address with the government, he said.

Coffee exporters in the world's No. 3 grower had sent some deliveries to port early in anticipation and expect no impact if the strike lasted three or four days, said Jorge Lozano, president of the Asoexport coffee exporters association.

Transport Minister Andres Uriel Gallego said reports from early morning showed the strike had limited impact and no roadways were blocked by protesters. The Pacific port of Buenaventura had some reduced traffic, he said.

Police said they had received no reports of blockades and truckers insisted on a peaceful protest. The agriculture ministry said it had no reports of disruptions in food deliveries as suppliers had stocked up before the strike.

"The situation in Colombia for all of us drivers is critical," driver Segundo Imbaqui said in Bogota. "A truck is no longer a worthwhile business."

Spreading Protests

A major Thai truckers group which threatened to blockade the capital Bangkok this week agreed to postpone the protest on Monday after the government promised to help the transport sector deal with the increasing fuel costs.

Last week, thousands of Thai haulers went on a half-day strike.

Facing sustained protests on the streets of Bangkok and shaky public support, Thailand's four-month old government is trying to shore itself up with handouts to everyone from rice farmers to bus operators.