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Early Edition

Britain Facing Growing Fuel Shortage As Protesters Dig In

Aired September 12, 2000 - 8:15 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Fuel prices are going up here in the United States, but Europe's fuel crisis is deepening. British Prime Minister Tony Blair is under increasing pressure to take some action to relieve the pressure of fuel blockades plaguing his island nation. And protests are under way all across the continent.

CNN's Nic Robertson joins us to explain what exactly is happening today.

Good morning, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

Well, those protests across the country have really been beginning to have an impact in the capital, London, today. Many of the fuel stations here beginning to run out of gas. The pumps behind me ran out about an hour ago of diesel and unleaded fuel. They only have leaded fuel left now.

Now, the protest here in Britain is very much over the high price that people pay here for gas, $5.50 a gallon. Almost 80 percent of that is tax, and that is what is making people angry here. Last night, the government moved to enact emergency powers to give it the ability to ensure deliveries of fuel to schools, to public transport services and to hospitals. But across the whole country, this crisis and protest has been gaining momentum.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Across Britain, drivers began to bear the burden for a nationwide campaign to cut fuel costs. Hundreds of gas stations closed and others began rationing fuel in a bid to make their reserves last longer.

ROGER PUGSLEY, GAS STATION MANAGER: We've sold something like 4,000 liters of unleaded in three hours this morning, which is about 10 times the rate we would normally expect.

ROBERTSON: The worst-hit areas, the north, the west and Wales, unable to get more deliveries as farmers and truckers continue weekend-long blockades of six out of Britain's nine refineries. The campaign also brought traffic chaos as protesters went slow on highways. Their feeling now, however, that their action is getting in gear. GARRY RUSSELL, "DUMP THE PUMP" CAMPAIGN: Flash protests are now going to show along the length and breadth of the country. I think that the haulers and the farmers are starting to dig in now.

ROBERTSON: Emboldened by French protests last week and embittered at paying the highest fuel costs in Europe, $5.50 a gallon, many vow to continue until they get concessions on the near 80 percent tax now paid on gas.

However, unlike French protesters, who won tax concessions from their government this weekend, British campaigners appear set for a tougher battle as Britain's prime minister made clear he would not back down.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We cannot and we will not alter government policy on petrol through blockades and pickets. That is not the way to make policy in Britain, and as far as I'm concerned, it never will be.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERSTON: Well, the prime minister cut short a tour of Britain and returned to London for cabinet meetings to meet with ministers and figure out how best to tackle the situation. It has been escalating through the day. Over half the gas stations throughout Britain are estimated now by fuel retailers to have run out of gas.

And the very latest, within the last half an hour or so, the deputy prime minister in a public address said that the emphasis was now with the oil companies, the oil distributors. He said all the powers, all the legal powers were in place to enable them to go ahead and distribute the oil.

So very much putting the emphasis now on having the fuel distributed by the gas companies. He said, from the government's position, they will not negotiate on this. The proper forum, he says, for moving forward on the fuel crisis is in political debate, not in protest.

LIN: All right, thank you very much, Nic Robertson, in London on the fuel blockade.

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