Dry pumps and panic at petrol blockade threat

LONDON - Petrol pumps across Britain ran dry after drivers bought up supplies, following a lobby group's threat to blockade oil refineries in protest at fuel tax.

Hours before the protests, planned to start at 5pm NZT yesterday, petrol stations reported "hectic" business as cars crammed forecourts and snaked down surrounding roads.

The panic was sparked by weekend reports of a looming crisis caused by the Fuel Lobby's threats.

Its beginning was a damp squib, however, with only a few demonstrators turning up at oil refineries across the nation.

Despite appeals for calm from both the Government and the oil companies, the rush for petrol caused a shortage anyway.

Ministers rejected the lobby's call to cut fuel taxes, despite its threat of a rerun of the 2000 blockades, which brought the country to a standstill.

The price of fuel has soared after Hurricane Katrina , with petrol passing the 1 ($2.58) a litre barrier for the first time, pushing up inflation to 2.4 per cent, it's highest for eight years.

Chancellor Gordon Brown said the Government understood the problems faced by transport companies, farmers and motorists, but refused to concede to demands for a cut in fuel duty of up to 10 per cent. Instead, he called on oil producing countries to increase production.

The Fuel Lobby urged the public to gather outside oil refineries. Details of the locations had been kept secret amid claims of heavy-handed tactics by the state, but the biggest protest stretched to about a dozen at a refinery in Jarrow, in the northeast of the England.

- INDEPENDENT

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