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Fuel protests switch to Scandinavia

OSLO, Norway -- The focus of the fuel protests that have affected much of Europe over the past two weeks has switched to Scandinavia.

Truck drivers in Norway have started a blockade of eight oil terminals as part of their campaign to force a cut in fuel duties.

Oil terminals outside Oslo, Stavanger and Bergen are being targeted by the hauliers. Similar direct action acrss Europe has forced governments to look at the issue of fuel taxes levels.

Norwegian union leaders said all petrol deliveries would be blocked in southern and central Norway after the Norwegian Government agreed last week to lower the tax on petrol by a small amount but refused to do the same for diesel fuel.

Petrol stations and oil companies across the country reported panic buying of petrol over the weekend ahead of the planned blockades.

Similar campaigns in recent days crippled fuel supplies in France, Britain, Belgium and Germany.

Meanwhile, in Sweden, the National Farmers' Federation (LFR) promised "spectacular" action on Monday following a go-slow protest on the E20 motorway on Sunday.

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CNN's Chris Burns shows German truckers and farmers protesting

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CNN's Al Goodman reports on the latest fuel blockade in Spain

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CNN.com European Political Commentator Robin Oakley discusses the political implications of fuel protests in Europe

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A group of 15 hauliers also blocked one of Stockholm's two main harbour areas, obstructing ferry traffic. Protesters said they would allow only foods and medicines to pass through.

"Farmers don't want to create a French-style situation where the whole country is blocked, but they want to be heard," LFR President Lars Nilsson said.

"All the country's ports could be blocked again," hauliers' spokesman Sven Jansson said in Stockholm. In Denmark, about 1,100 hauliers agreed on Saturday to temporarily postpone planned protests pending a meeting with the government on Thursday.

The Scandinavian action comes after hauliers and governments in the Netherlands and Hungary reached deals to avoid more price protests.

But while governments are being forced to make deals, the hauliers' populist action is having longer-term political implications.

Germany is warning its lorry drivers of a crackdown if blockades there intensify while Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair and his government have lost public support over their handling of last week's protest across the UK.

Opinion polls published on Sunday showed that Blair's Labour Party is now behind the opposition Conservative Party for the first time in eight years.

The backlash against Blair is similar to that suffered by Lionel Jospin over his handling of the protests in France that sparked action in neighbouring countries.

In The Netherlands, the Dutch Government agreed on Saturday to give taxi, bus and trucking companies, as well as other fuel-using companies, some $300 million to compensate for high fuel prices, after initially ruling out any concessions.

Companies will also be granted an extra three months to pay road taxes.

Dutch hauliers, who have paralysed highways with roadblocks for nearly a week, had been threatening action on Tuesday when Queen Beatrix is due to ride through The Hague to present the budget to parliament.

Hungarian hauliers decided not to start protests of their own when the government agreed to postpone a six percent increase in excise taxes as long as the world crude oil price remains above $25 a barrel.

European governments have taken a variety of stances in the face of the protests that first began in France on September 4.

France granted the transport workers a tax break while the British government rejected any changes in its fuel taxes, Europe's highest.

Taxes range from 51 percent in Greece to 73 percent in Britain.

Crude oil prices have tripled since last December, to more than $30 per barrel from $10, reaching a level transport workers say is a threat to their livelihood.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, ending a four-day visit to London, said on Saturday he would press fellow OPEC members to create a mechanism to link production to price, to stabilise prices for consumers.

But he said it was unfair to blame the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries entirely for recent protests.

"What the oil producer gets paid is about 16 percent. The majority of it is tax, which in fairness to the government of this country they have accepted and admitted," Obasanjo said.



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In-Depth Special: Europe's Fuel Crisis

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