Hundreds of angry fishermen protest

BRUSSELS, Belgium Rowdy fishermen threw flares and firecrackers at police across barricades and many waved flags or held up banners demanding action. Hundreds of riot police were deployed, and officers used barricades and water canons to prevent the protesters from getting too close to EU buildings.

Fishermen and truck drivers across Europe have protested in recent weeks to demand government aid to help compensate for the high fuel costs that they say are threatening their livelihoods.

Europeans are faced with higher fuel prices than elsewhere because of excise taxes that are added to national sales tax. EU leaders have put the problem on top of their June 19-20 summit agenda.

A delegation of fishermen met briefly outside the European Commission Wednesday with senior EU officials to outline their plight and demand emergency aid.

"To have a sustainable fishery we need to have cheaper fuel prices," said Pierre D'Acunto, a fishermen representative from the southern French port town of Sete on the Mediterranean coast. "It's impossible to work with these prices."

Patrick Tabone, a senior official from the office of EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg, offered no immediate aid to the protesters. He recommended the fishermen accept calls for a mass overhaul of Europe's fisheries sector, including cutting back the size of fleets to prevent overfishing and to cut costs.

"There is a problem of high costs at the time when the sector is also in a situation where there is overcapacity and where there is a need for restructuring," Tabone told the fishermen. "What we need to ensure is that the responses we come up with are a real help to the sector, not only in the short term, but in the long term."

D'Acunto said European fishermen would continue their protests across Europe and picket EU agriculture and fisheries ministers talks planned for Luxembourg later this month.

Under pressure at home from truckers and fishermen, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde on Monday asked EU nations to slash sales tax on fuel.

Other EU nations are skeptical of the French plan, saying it does nothing to encourage people to consume less energy in the long term or to push producers to pump more oil.

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