Latin America & Caribbean

Brazil fuel protests: Drivers to clear roads over army threat

Truckers block a highway near Sao Paulo Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption Highways around São Paulo have been blocked

One of the main groups behind a fuel strike paralysing Brazil has told truckers to clear roads after President Temer threatened to send in the army.

The Abcam drivers' association said the threat of force was "lamentable" and said it feared for its members' safety.

Earlier Mr Temer said a "radical minority" had rejected an agreement reached on Thursday and was holding the population hostage.

Diesel prices in Brazil have nearly doubled since 2016.

The strike has brought the country to a standstill, with queues at petrol stations, airports running out of fuel and supermarket shelves empty.

What did President Temer say?

He said he had authorised federal security forces to clear highways and told state governors to do the same.

A minority of drivers was preventing "many truckers from carrying out their wishes to serve the people and do their jobs", he said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Temer blames a radical minority of truckers for the disruption

They "did not have the right to paralyse the nation", he added.

How have drivers responded?

Abcam, which says it represents 600,000 drivers, told drivers to allow transportation to return to normal.

It said it still wanted drivers to protest, but said this should be done peacefully and without blocking roads.

Abcam was the driving force behind the blockades, which began on Monday.

On Thursday the government said it had reached a deal to scrap fuel taxes and maintain a 10% reduction in pump prices for a month in return for the protests being suspended for 15 days.

But Abcam initially rejected the deal and told its members to stay "firm" in their protest until the fuel tax cuts were signed into law.

How widespread are the protests?

On Friday there were still blockades in all but two of the country's 26 states, federal highway police said.

Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption Highway blockades are in place in all but two Brazilian states

There were 74 alone in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, a major route for trade with Argentina.

Routes between cities such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte were also still blocked and there was very little activity at Santos, Latin America's biggest port, according to port operator Codesp.

What has been their effect?

Petrol stations have been left unable to offer fuel, supermarkets are short of goods, and rubbish collection and public transport services have been reduced in many areas.

Some firms told staff not to come to work on Friday.

French supermarket chain Carrefour has limited the number of items each consumer can buy.

Fears that the protest might continue for days has prompted consumers to stock up on staples such as bread, rice and mineral water.

Exports have also been affected, as the main highways remain blocked.

Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption Truckers have been blocking a fuel distribution point in the capital Brasilia

Sugar stocks have been reduced to "near zero" in the main ports, according to industry group Unica. Brazil is the world's largest sugar producer.

All car manufacturing in Brazil has been halted, car makers association Anfavea said.

Fibria, the world's largest producer of eucalyptus pulp, said the protests were affecting production.

What is happening in São Paulo?

The city has declared a state of emergency, allowing it to seize fuel from petrol stations.

It also enables purchases to be made without going through normal budgeting and bidding procedures, the statement said.

The move reflects fears that vital services in the city such as bus transport, waste collection, food deliveries and health services could collapse by Monday, the Folha de São Paulo newspaper reported.

The city has suspended non-essential administrative services to save fuel.

Why have diesel prices risen?

The state-owned oil company Petrobras adopted a pro-market policy of tracking international oil prices after President Michel Temer took office following the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in 2016.

That has seen prices almost double.

Shares in Petrobras rose 2% on Friday on news of the deal after dropping by 19% on Thursday.

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