Gas pumps run dry as drivers strike

Gasoline pumps across the country dried up over the weekend as striking truck drivers, who are threatening to extend their five-day protest action, will be joined by taxi drivers today. Strikes in the transport sector have picked up as drivers seek steep hikes in state-regulated charges to offset cost increases arising from soaring gasoline prices. Motorists in Athens queued up on Saturday for up to 2 kilometers at service stations selling their last remaining supplies. Gas stations in other parts of the country had started closing down at the end of last week. According to press reports, there have been cases of stranded drivers stealing gasoline from parked motorcycles, while some service stations upped prices by as much as 30 percent to take advantage of the high demand. Truck drivers, including those transporting fuel and food supplies, have asked for a 13 percent rise in distribution charges, while the government has agreed to a 5 percent hike. «We have demanded an increase of 13 percent,» said Giorgos Tsavos, fuel truck union president. «We have no other way to fight, if we want to save our businesses, other than this strike.» Other demands relate to social security contributions and the hours that trucks are allowed to drive on national highways. Striking drivers, who are scheduled to meet with Employment Minister Fani Palli-Petralia this morning, met with Transport Minister Costis Hatzidakis late on Friday and had some of their demands met. «The government is handling the issue with understanding… so that by Monday we will be able to deal with the issue and end the strike,» said Hatzidakis yesterday. The protest action is also having an impact on food supplies as fresh food producers are unable to transport their goods. Scuffles broke out between striking drivers and farmers at the port of Iraklion in Crete on Saturday as producers attempted to board Athens-bound ferries with fresh fruit supplies in their own vehicles. There were no reports of injuries or arrests. Striking fuel truck drivers are scheduled to meet this morning to decide on whether they will extend their protest action. However, industry sources said that some gasoline is likely to start reaching the markets as of today from oil companies that own and operate their own fuel trucks. Taxi drivers have meanwhile announced a 24-hour strike starting at 5 a.m. today.