Polish Truckers Hold Go-Slow in Fuel Price Protest

Truckers want government action to help them bear the burden of fuel prices.

Polish truckers held a nationwide snail's pace protest against soaring fuel prices June 23, organizers said. "Tens of thousands of truckers have answered our call," said Jan Buczek, head of Poland's road haulage association. The association had asked drivers to hamper traffic by travelling at just 20 kilometers per hour (12 mph) between noon and 3:00 pm (1000-1300 GMT).

Poland's road hauliers have been demanding government action to help them bear the burden of fuel prices, as well as the strength of the Polish zloty against the euro, which they say is making business unprofitable. "If this carries on, up to 50% of haulage firms could go out of business," Buczek said.

Polish firms, which are major players in the EU's transport business, have a combined fleet of 120,000 trucks, Buczek said. Unlike counterparts in other European countries who have opted to block traffic with barricades in protest against high fuel prices, the Polish demonstrators have so far adopted a softer approach. Two weeks ago 50,000 Polish drivers simply pulled up their vehicles on the roadside or in parking zones for one hour. Buczek, however, said protests could be stepped up if the truckers failed to get a hearing for their call for government help.

The truckers are also opposed to a government plan to get rid of a tax disc system which currently allows them to pay a flat rate for using the country's highways. The government aims to replace the system with a per-kilometer (per-mile) toll.

In addition, the truckers are demanding that the authorities take steps to smooth the passage of vehicles on the country's eastern borders with Ukraine and Belarus. Controls there have been beefed up -- leading to lengthy delays -- since Poland joined Europe's free-travel Schengen area at the end of last year and the Polish frontier became the rim of the 24-nation zone.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

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