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Truckers' strike over rising fuel costs clogs highways, causes supply disruptions in Spain

Truckers' strike over rising fuel costs clogs highways, causes supply disruptions in Spain

Truckers angry over soaring fuel prices blocked highways across Spain on Tuesday, disrupting supplies of food, gasoline, auto parts and other goods. One protester was killed when he was run over by a van trying to drive through a picket in a southern city.
The strike, which began Monday, is the most serious labor unrest facing Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero since he came to power in March 2004. It threatens further damage to an economy that is already slowing down due to a collapse in Spain's once-booming construction sector.
Three auto plants _ one each from Nissan, Mercedes Benz and SEAT _ said they were suspending operations for lack of spare parts. And some gasoline stations in Madrid and the northeastern Catalonia region already have run out of fuel.
Vendors warned of shortages of fruit, vegetables and meat this week at Madrid's sprawling wholesale market, Mercamadrid, if the strike continues.
Mercamadrid took in 10 truckloads of fish Tuesday _ compared with 90 on a normal day, said Manuel Pablos, president of an association of fish merchants. Fishermen also have been on strike since May 30 to protest rising fuel costs.
The combination of the two strikes "is making these days very grim," he said.
Truckers say their diesel costs have risen 36 percent in one year.
The stoppage had its first fatality Tuesday when a protester was knocked down by a van at a picket outside the wholesale market in Granada, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
"We regret the death of this person and hope it makes everyone realize that no dispute is worth the death of anyone," Juan Jose Lopez Garzon, Interior Ministry delegate for the southern region of Andalucia, told Spanish National Radio.
The ministry said the van driver, who has been detained, accelerated and hit the man when protesters began to throw stones after he tried to drive past the picket.
A second day of talks between the government and truckers' representatives was suspended after the death was reported.
Those on strike mainly are self-employed truckers who make up a minority of the industry. They are demanding minimum, guaranteed haulage rates to offset rising fuel prices and to enable them to compete with large trucking companies. The government has said that setting guaranteed rates would violate the principle of free-market competition.
The truckers also complain that while fishermen benefit from heavily discounted diesel fuel, truckers have no such generous perk.
"Why not us? What do we run on, water?" asked trucker Antonio Campoy as he stood beside a long line of trucks parked on a major highway leading into Madrid.
Campoy said with fuel prices so high and so many other costs to cover, it is virtually impossible for independent truckers to make a profit.
"Every wheel on this truck costs at least euro400 (US$631), and it has 18 of them," Campoy told AP Television News. "All we are asking for is a little consideration."
Traffic on roads outside Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Alicante and other cities was backed up behind slow-moving trucks, the Interior Ministry's traffic division said. Trucks also blocked the Junquera border crossing with France for a second day, allowing only cars through.
On the streets of Madrid, people raided supermarkets in bouts of panic buying.
Eva Villafafila, a 34-year-old workplace safety inspector, said she stocked up Monday.
"There were unbelievably long lines, and the supermarket staff said that if the strike continued, they would run out of chicken and eggs right away."
Pilar Martinez, a 74-year-old retiree, said she does not anticipate widespread shortages _ but stopped by the gasoline station.
"I have not done anything out of the ordinary, although I have to admit that yesterday, I topped up my gas tank, just in case," she said.
Meanwhile, a similar truckers' protest was taking place in Hong Kong, with truck drivers in a go-slow strike to disrupt traffic and protest rising fuel costs.
About 300 people marched to Hong Kong's government headquarters and demanded that fuel taxes be slashed, according to government-run broadcaster RTHK.
Light, sweet crude for July delivery was at US$131.80 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Tuesday.