SAO PAULO (Reuters) - A truckers protest over diesel prices in Brazil that is hurting supplies of fuel, food and medicines continued for the sixth day on Saturday despite President Michel Temer ordering the military to clear blocked roads the day before.
Major cities have declared a state of emergency as gas stations and airports ran out of fuel, supermarket shelves went bare and hospitals said they were running out of supplies. Public transport and trash collection were reduced or halted across the country and prices for some food items jumped.
The government said there were fewer blockades on major highways across the country on Saturday compared to Friday. However, the main entity representing truckers, ABCAM, said they have not changed their main argument that they will call off protests only when federal taxes over diesel are scrapped.
Later on Saturday, federal forces and police appeared to be gaining an edge on clearing some roads. They were escorting convoys with fuel and other products in some areas in the country, including the airport in the capital Brasilia.
Negotiators for several trucker groups initially agreed on Thursday to suspend the protests as the government promised to subsidise and stabilise diesel prices, which may cost 5 billion reais ($1.4 billion) this year.
But truckers say they want a definitive solution, that they will end the protest only when a decision to eliminate federal diesel taxes is published in the official gazette.
Local TV showed footage overnight of federal forces being deployed to some critical areas to help police remove trucks from highways. There were no reports of violence, but main roads remained blocked in the morning.
Some business sectors that depend on daily supplies were suffering.
Lack of animal feed may cause the deaths of one billion birds and 20 million hogs, Brazilian meat group ABPA said, adding that more than 150 poultry and pork processing plants had indefinitely suspended production.
Brazil’s sugar industry, the world’s largest, is slowly halting cane harvest operations as machines ran out of fuel.
Blockades continue to prevent trucks from entering the port of Santos, Latin America’s largest, and oilseeds crushing group Abiove said soy exports would halt on Saturday if truckers did not allow access to major ports.
Auto production, which contributes about a quarter of Brazil’s industrial output, ground to a halt on Friday.
Authorities said even after roads are completely cleared, it would still take several days to normalise supplies.
Reporting by Flavia Bohone and Marcelo Teixeira; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Susan Thomas