UK: Tempers fly as motorists scramble to top up tanks

UK: Tempers fly as motorists scramble to top up tanks

Motorists punched each other to get petrol, demonstrators attacked British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his Jaguar and virtually the whole of Britain will be without fuel within two days.

That was just part of the chaos gripping the country in its worst-ever fuel crisis and there was a lot more.

Queues up to 4.8 km long snaked out of petrol station forecourts onto busy roads, causing scores of accidents and numerous fights between drivers over queue-jumping accusations.

One motorist, aged 62, died from stress after queuing in the heat for more than an hour to fill his tank.

Black-marketeers capitalised on the desperation of drivers to get petrol by doubling their price.

One independent garage owner in Derby charged an outrageous [pound]2.50 (S$6.11) a litre for super unleaded petrol - almost triple the normal price.

Police had to protect him throughout the day from angry motorists. At least 1,900 petrol stations throughout Britain have been forced to close because they have no petrol left. In Wales, every single filling station was dry.

Throughout Britain, traffic on motorways and highways was slowed down to a snail's pace by truck drivers moving at just 8 kmh, causing huge jams.

Hospitals cancelled non-vital operations, ambulances were ordered to go only to emergency cases and even police cars attended to just major incidents, due to the shortage of petrol.

Ordinary motorists, farmers and truck drivers are now blockading every refinery and fuel depot in Britain - preventing petrol tankers from re-supplying garages.

The protest which is grinding Britain to a halt is not only about the high cost of petrol of up to 1 pound for a litre, by far the highest in Europe.

It is also against successive British governments' policy of imposing so much tax - about 75 per cent in Value Added Tax and fuel duty - the highest in Europe and possibly the world.

The fuel demonstrations probably have the widest public support of any campaign in British history, because virtually every family is affected by the uniquely high taxes.

The prime minister staked his political reputation and possibly even the future of the government on Monday by declaring he would not cut taxes.

Mr Blair said: ""We cannot, and will not, alter government policy on petrol because of blockades and pickets. That's not the way to make policy in Britain and, as far as I'm concerned, it never will be."

Minutes earlier, protesters blocked his Jaguar, banging on it and shouting: ""Shame on you! Shame on you!"

Policemen on horseback had to clear a path for the car to speed away to safety.

Later, Mr Blair cancelled a planned Chinese dinner with Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, after police warned there could be danger from a large mob which had gathered at the restaurant.

Queen Elizabeth II has sanctioned contingency powers to make sure fuel can be distributed across the country. Now, thousands of police are getting ready throughout Britain to force the lifting of the blockades.

Once that starts, it is feared widespread violence between demonstrators and the police will break out.

(c) 2000 Singapore Press Holdings Limited.

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