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Truckers Block Berlin Streets

September 26, 2000

BERLIN (AP) _ Thousands of German truckers protesting higher gas prices clogged the streets around the capital’s center Tuesday demanding relief from high gas prices. And they got some when the government offered low-interest loans to some trucking companies.

Transport Minister Reinhard Klimmt said the loans would be given to mid-sized trucking companies based in Germany that are running into cash shortages because of spiraling fuel costs. The step comes on top of concessions offered by the government last week to commuters.

Protests were also held Tuesday in Spain and Greece, part of a monthlong series of demonstrations across Europe against the high cost of fuel.

By the morning, about 2,000 trucks had blocked the tree-lined avenue that runs through Berlin’s central Tiergarten park to the Brandenburg Gate, where 5,000 trucks were expected for a demonstration calling on Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s government to relax an ``ecology tax″ that, along with higher oil prices, has led to more expensive gas.

``The ecology tax creates jobs _ abroad!!!″ read one protest banner.

Police said traffic chaos was avoided, however, because many commuters heeded warnings about tie-ups and stayed off the roads.

Karl-Heinz Schmidt, head of a national association of truck drivers, told ARD television that the protest was the ``last chance″ for the truckers to seek relief. He said 100,000 jobs were endangered by the high gas prices, and his group is in negotiations with the government seeking to get the same concessions other drivers in Europe have won from their governments.

Schroeder has repeatedly said he would not cut the ecological tax.

While police reported few traffic tie-ups, passengers aboard a boat traveling into Berlin said they saw traffic jams stretching back 12 miles from the city. Others inconvenienced by the demonstration also showed little sympathy for the truckers.

``Do we really need so many trucks? There are ships and trains that could do this,″ said Michael Helmchen, 64, a management consultant who left his car at home and was walking to work. ``Everyone can lose their jobs at a moment’s notice in today’s world.″

In the southern city of Nuremberg, about 140 protesting farmers on tractors drove through the city, but traffic also was left unsnarled.

In Spain, Barcelona markets ran out of fresh fish Tuesday while supplies in Valencia ran low after a week of fishermen’s strikes and blockades to protest rising fuel costs.

Hundreds of Mediterranean fishermen, who stopped fishing a week ago to protest diesel prices, have blockaded the Valencia and Barcelona markets for a week to halt fish deliveries.

In Seville, farmers with tractors and trucks surrounded a regional fuel depot to stop fuel deliveries.

Greek motorists lined up at gas stations Tuesday for a second day over fears that a trucker strike there would lead to fuel shortages.

Truck drivers and owners had called an indefinite strike on Monday to protest government plans to deregulate their profession. They are also demanded fuel tax cuts.

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