by Denholm BarnetsonWed Jun 11, 3:35 PM ET
Auto plants in Spain were paralysed and Portugal's main airport banned planes from refueling Wednesday as a third day of strikes by thousands of truckers caused heightened chaos and shortages.
Truckers in Thailand also threatened to strike next week while their counterparts in South Korea plan to stop work on Friday, as the outrage over soaring fuel prices intensified around the world.
Tens of thousands of truck drivers launched stoppages in France, Portugal and Spain on Monday to demand government help to cope with the rising price of fuel caused by rocketing oil prices, which last week reached almost 140 dollars a barrel.
The protests have paralysed roads, causing huge tailbacks, notably on the French-Spanish border and around major Spanish cities, and left supermarkets short of fresh produce and some petrol stations without supplies. Two strikers were run over by vehicles and killed at picket lines on Tuesday.
The Spanish auto plants of Seat, Nissan, Renault, PSA Peugeot Citroen and Mercedes Benz said they had cut or halted production as the strike left them short of parts.
In Belgium, the Volvo and Audi auto plants said they would be forced to close from Thursday due to the strike in Spain.
In Portugal, the strike hit air transport as fuel shortages forced authorities at Lisbon airport to ban planes from refuelling, except those on high priority flights.
"We cannot refuel any planes, except those on urgent, military or state flights," a spokesman for the airport authority, Rui Oliveira, told Lusa news agency.
The European Commission on Wednesday called on EU nations to take targeted action to help those most vulnerable deal with high oil prices.
The commission, the EU's executive body, said the measures should focus on the fishing, farm and transport sectors, as well as the chemical and auto industries.
In Spain, road haulage unions resumed negotiations with the government that were suspended on Tuesday after a truck driver was run over and killed by a van as he manned a picket line in the southern city of Granada.
Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba promised to guarantee deliveries of food, fuel, medicines and spare parts for auto plants, under police escort if necessary.
Portuguese police stepped up patrols after a striker manning a picket line north of Lisbon was run over and killed by a lorry on Tuesday.
Police escorted about 40 oil trucks to petrol stations around Lisbon and the western town of Setubal. Strikers had prevented the trucks from leaving a warehouse north of the capital.
Long queues formed at many petrol stations, some of which were out of supplies.
The Portuguese truckers vowed to step up their blockades Wednesday, particularly in the north of the country, where they plan to seal off the port of Leixos as well as supermarket warehouses.
Several supermarket chains have already expressed concern over the shortage of fresh products, especially milk.
In Spain too, the blocked roads meant wholesale food markets in large cities suffered shortages of fresh fish, milk, fruits and vegetables.
Truckers also maintained a blockade of a motorway across the French-Spanish border by the western town of Biriatou. On the French side, traffic jams were reported up to the western port of Bordeaux.
But Spanish police early Wednesday reopened the main motorway linking Barcelona with France at the northeastern border town of Jonquera. On the French side, truckers who had blocked the road since Monday also left.
Elsewhere in Europe, around 50,000 Polish truckers staged one-hour protests across the country Wednesday, although without blocking roads, the organisers said.
The British government is also finalising contingency plans to cope with a four-day strike by oil tanker drivers this weekend.
And Dutch truckers announced plans to block roads at 18 points across the country for 30 minutes on Thursday.
Across the world, Thai truck drivers threatened Wednesday to go on strike next week and block roads to the capital with 400,000 lorries unless the government helps them pay for soaring fuel costs.
Truckers in South Korea have voted to go on strike on Friday. In Malaysia, the opposition has planned a series of rallies culminating in a July 12 demonstration which they hope will attract 100,000 people following the government's fuel price hike of 41 percent last week.