German government defends gas taxes as protests mount : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Friday 15 September 2000

German government defends gas taxes as protests mount BERLIN: Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's government defended its gas taxes Thursday against mounting criticism in parliament and on the streets, where hundreds of farmers, truckers and taxi drivers tied up traffic around Germany demanding relief from high prices.

More than 500 vehicles snarled traffic in downtown Hanover, while a similar convoy to the statehouse in Magdeburg, in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, tied up traffic there.

Truckers maintained blockades set up early this week at border-crossings between Germany and Belgium for trucks. Passenger cars were being allowed through at some crossings, but only with considerable delays, police in Aachen on the Belgian border said.

Deliveries were being blocked from two refineries in the northern German cities of Lingen im Emsland and Wilhelmshaven by about 60 to 80 farmers on tractors, local authorities said.

The demonstrators were demanding the repeal of the "ecology tax" imposed by Schroeder government's on energy, which adds a few pennies to the price of a liter of gasoline each year.

Schroeder told ARD television Wednesday night that the tax was necessary to reduce labor costs in Germany and fight high unemployment. However, some form of targeted relief for those whose livelihood was threatened by the rise in energy prices was being considered, he said.

Labour Minister Walter Riester told parliament during a debate Thursday that two thirds of the 25 billion marks (dlrs 11.1 billion) collected so far has gone to financing reductions in the contributions employees and companies have to make for pensions, with the rest going to shore up the tottering system itself.

Riester said the government was sticking "openly and honestly" to the tax, calling it "indispensable." But conservative lawmaker Horst Seehofer accused the government of breaking its word by raising the pension contributions next year anyway. (AP)

-- Martin Thompson (, September 15, 2000


European Fuel Protests Move East By JILL LAWLESS Associated Press Writer

LONDON - Fuel-starved Britain was slowly getting back to normal Friday after most fuel-tax protesters called off their pickets of depots and refineries. But the protest picked up steam elsewhere in Europe, with truck drivers launching actions in the Netherlands, Spain, Germany and Poland. In Britain, most of the pickets that choked off the country's fuel supply over the past week were removed by early Friday, and tankers were again rolling to gas stations. Shell said 20% of its pumps would be full by the weekend. But motorists were warned it would be several days, or even weeks, before gas pumps are full once again.

Belgian roads were back to normal Friday after two of three protesting unions accepted a government offer of compensation for truckers hit by high world oil prices. The five-day protest forced the Ford motor plant at Genk to shut down production.

But the protest that began when French drivers blockaded roads and won concessions last week showed no signs of coming to a quick end across Europe.

Some 1,200 truck drivers in Ireland began staging go-slow protests in Dublin and other cities on Friday morning, slowing traffic in the capital and congregating in large numbers at the Dublin and Rosslare ports. But police said most of the roads still remained clear.

In the Netherlands, hundreds of truck and taxi drivers blocked roads and blew their horns outside government offices Friday, and halted early morning road traffic to Schipol Airport outside Amsterdam.

It was the largest fuel demonstration yet in the Netherlands, with the national automobile association reporting 31 blockades on highways leading to the country's largest cities, creating up to 8- mile-long traffic snarls.

Europe's fuel protests also spread to Spain Friday as horn-blaring trucks moving at a snail's pace clogged roads leading into Barcelona during the morning rush hour.

In southern Spain, hundreds of tractors, trucks and taxis snaked their way toward Merida's city center in a similar protest. Up to 4,000 pedestrians accompanied them.

In Germany, about 200 trucks, taxis and tractors blockaded the center of the northern city of Bremen, and about 1,600 protesters planned to block autobahns in the eastern state of Saxony on Friday. The government refused to budge on a plan for a 3-cent increase in gas prices next year, part of an ''ecology tax'' that took effect last year.

Production at a General Motors factory came to a standstill Friday as truck blockades in Belgium prevented parts deliveries. Production at a plant in Germany, near the Belgian border, was expected to resume after Belgian truckers lifted their blockade Thursday night.

About 500 Polish truckers crawled along highways Friday, causing caused traffic jams in the Baltic city of Gdansk and the northwestern city of Bydgoszcz.

Overnight talks between trucking and government representatives collapsed in confusion early Friday, with Finance Minister Jaroslaw Bauc resisting any attempt to reduce the excise tax on fuel.

Protest actions were also threatened in Hungary.

In Britain, protesters declared a moral victory as they abandoned their pickets and blockades.

''We have lost the battle but won the war,'' said Mark Greene, a protest organizer at the Milford Haven refinery in Wales.

Military tankers were pressed into service to help relieve the backlog, but Ray Holloway of the Petrol Retailers Association said it would take 2-3 weeks to get back to normal.

The fuel crisis had sparked a rash of panic buying in Britain, and some stores ran out of milk and bread. The Royal Mail said Thursday it was suspending Sunday collections to conserve fuel.

Conservative Party leader William Hague called on Prime Minister Tony Blair to apologize for his ''woeful'' handling of the crisis, and the prime minister's popularity appeared to have taken a hit.

A Gallup poll of 1,006 voters conducted during the fuel crisis and published Friday in the Telegraph newspaper found a 7% rise in those dissatisfied with Blair's performance, from 45% to 52%.

Blair promised to listen to protesters, but offered no concessions on the taxes which have made British fuel prices the highest in Europe. British truckers paid an average of $4.33 a gallon of diesel fuel last month, compared to $2.63 in Belgium, according to the Automobile Association.

-- Martin Thompson (, September 15, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ