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Rising fuel prices spark unrest in parts of Europe

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A farmer sits on a tractor with a Greek flag during a protest outside the Greek Agriculture Ministry in Athens, March 18, 2022. (Photo by AP)

Thousands of people have taken to the streets across Spain to protest against rising energy costs that have been exacerbated by Russia’s operation in Ukraine.

The rallies on Saturday were called by Spain's far-right Vox party. The major grievances are the spiraling costs of food, light and fuel.

In the capital Madrid, several thousand people gathered outside the City Hall as they waved Spanish flags and chanted slogans calling for the resignation of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

This government “is taking everything from us,” Anabel, a 56-year-old demonstrator who didn't give her surname told AFP. “They hike the light and gas prices and say it's because of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, but that's a lie. It was like this before.”

“Light prices really affect (my family) because some of us work from home, and we can hardly put the heating on because the price of gas has almost doubled over the past six months.”

Francisco, 53, another protester who is unemployed, said, “A country that raises prices in this way and doesn't help its citizens by partially lowering taxes, is abandoning its people.”

“We have to force the government to act – or remove them, for Spain's sake.”

On Friday, a group of mostly self-employed Spanish truckers walked off their jobs over high fuel prices and other grievances.

The self-employed truckers say what they are being paid to haul loads does not cover their costs. They also claim large distribution companies engage in unfair competition, forcing down the freight charges.

Spain deployed more than 23,000 police officers amid the truckers' strike. Police in patrol cars and helicopters escorted convoys of trucks along highways and held back picketers who threw burning tires onto a highway overnight in northwestern Spain, national media reported. Police arrested six people and placed 34 others under investigation, according to the Spanish Interior Ministry.

The Spanish government says it plans to introduce measures against high energy and fuel prices later this month, a measure already taken by other governments across Europe.

The prime ministers of Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece met on Friday to call for an urgent European Union-wide response to the energy crisis to come out of next week's European Council meeting in Brussels.

Roads in France blocked with protests

Meanwhile, scattered rallies have been seen against soaring fuel prices this week in France, with farmers snarling traffic.

On Friday, a convoy of about 20 farmers protested on their tractors in the western Brittany region by driving slowly down a highway and blockading a traffic circle to draw attention to their plight.

French road haulers and fishing crews have set up temporary barricades in recent days, using their vehicles and burning palettes to block roads. Truckers also drove through Berlin and other German cities Friday, honking their horns to protest high fuel prices.

In Greece, hundreds of protesting farmers blocked traffic in central Athens to demand the government grant them additional concessions to cope with high energy costs. The protesters, some on tractors, gathered outside the Farm Ministry as they held up vegetables and black flags.

Russia’s operation in Ukraine has further pushed up costs for oil and natural gas in Europe, driving record inflation and making it ever more expensive for farmers and truckers to fuel equipment and vehicles, afford fertilizer or keep up with other costs. In Europe, which relies on Russia’s oil and natural gas, the conflict has worsened an energy supply crunch that has driven up costs for households and businesses for months.

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