PARIS (AFP) — Protests by fishing fleets against soaring fuel costs threatened to spread across Europe, as French fishermen voted Monday to extend their port blockade and Spanish fleets joined the stoppage with several other countries likely to follow.
Italian and Greek fishermen may also join the strike later this week.
In France the cost of a litre of diesel fuel for fishing boats has shot up from 45 euro cents (70 US cents) a litre to 70 in just six months.
After tense talks in France's biggest fishing port, Boulogne Sur Mer, fishermen voted to reject an aid package from Paris and extend their strike and oil blockade in a dozen key ports by another 48 hours.
Meanwhile fishermen in northeast Spain also went on strike Monday over the same grievance, in a stoppage which is expected to spread to the country's other ports Tuesday.
The striking French fishing fleet planned to call for a Europe-wide protest, participants at the Boulogne meeting said.
In Ancona, Italy, a "Mediterranean vigilance committee" grouping fishermen from France, Italy, Portugal and Spain called for an indefinite strike from Wednesday, but it was not clear how representative they were.
The four main Mediterranean fishing federations -- Italy, Spain, Greece and Malta -- met later Monday in Paris to discuss possible joint action.
The chairman of the Mediterranean fishing association Medisamak, Mourad Kahoul, told AFP on the sidelines of the Paris meeting that European fishermen planned a demonstration this week in Brussels, without giving further details.
The French strike affects fleets in the English Channel and the Mediterranean, although one delegation, from Etaples near Calais, voted to return to work.
Fleets along the Atlantic coast agreed at the weekend to head back to sea, after the government promised aid to compensate for diesel costs.
"Our demands are still the same, a standardised fuel price across Europe and a responsible management of (EU) quotas," said Thierry Lepretre, head of the fishing committee in Boulogne, where groups of fishermen strung cables across the port entrance to stop colleagues heading out to sea.
French fishermen are also blockading oil depots and refineries on the country's Atlantic, Mediterranean and Channel coasts.
The fishermen escalated their protests last week, disrupting cross-Channel traffic, blocking fuel depots and ransacking fish stands at supermarkets as industry leaders negotiated with President Nicolas Sarkozy's government.
Fishermen in northeastern Spain launched a similar protest on Monday to demands for government aid, saying they too are hard hit by high fuel prices.
Fishermen in Belgium and Portugal are also planning protests later this week to press demands for government aid.
An Italian association, the Federation of Fishing Cooperatives, said its leadership would meet Wednesday to discuss strike action.
A big national demonstration is planned in Madrid on Friday.
In Spain union and government representatives met in Madrid on Monday but the talks ended without concrete agreement. Both sides agreed to future meetings aimed at countering the rising cost of fuel.
The government "understands the difficulties faced by the fishing sector," said fisheries ministry spokesman Juan Carols Martin after the meeting, but stressed that it was not the only industry suffering from high commodity prices.
The Spanish government has already promised a 60 percent increase in subsidies to fishing fleets to relieve their fuel expenses.
In France, where fishermen have already been out on strike for several days, Paris has offered an emergency package of 100 million euros (173 million dollars).
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