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By Mike Harding

MADRID
SPANISH drivers and shoppers stockpiled fuel and food yesterday, fearing shortages after lorry drivers blocked deliveries across the country for a second day of an indefinite protest at the high price of fuel.

Cars queued at petrol stations --40 percent of which had run out of fuel in the worst affected area of Catalonia - and supplies of fresh food began to run low in some markets, Spanish media reported.

Police motorbike riders escorted fuel tankers to some petrol stations to break picket lines and prevent attacks, after some strikers slashed lorry tyres on Monday. “I heard all the petrol stations were running out of fuel so I came to fill up, otherwise I worried I won't be able to get to work tomorrow,” said a Madrid driver who gave his name as Raul.

Oil company Cepsa said 45 percent of its deliveries had failed to get through to stations due to strikers blocking their path at fuel deposits, although Spain's biggest oil firm Repsol said deliveries were getting through with “relative normality.” Half the normal number of tankers picked up fuel at deposits on Monday, distribution firm CLH said, though the spokesman added that many oil companies had taken on extra supplies in previous days in anticipation of the strike.

Truckers caused traffic chaos in Madrid by slowing almost all roads into the capital, while others blockaded wholesale food markets.
Authorities opened toll booths to ease traffic chaos around the capital, media reported and Barcelona's city council said it was preparing a plan to ensure supplies of food, fuel and health supplies got through.

The indefinite strikes, which Portuguese drivers also joined, were backed by protests across the border in France over the impact of high oil prices, now at record highs of over $139 per barrel. The price of diesel has risen to 1.30 euros/litre from 0.95 euros a year ago.

In Catalonia, the worst affected region, car producer Seat said it stopped production on Monday night and a further two shifts yesterday - cutting production by 700 cars a shift - because supplies could not get through.

Other car makers said they had enough parts for several more days production. Meanwhile a strike by Spanish fishermen, now in its 12th day, showed no sign of breaking with almost all the Spanish fleet still in port. Only a trickle of fish passed through Vigo in Galicia - Europe's biggest fishing port - compared to the 200 tonnes that is normally traded there every day.

Traders at Madrid's main food wholesale market, speaking on state television, said that supplies of fresh food would start to run out in the coming days.

Meanwhile near the border with France, two lorry drivers were arrested early yesterday after threatening another driver who was trying to cross a picket line.