Sunday, April 01, 2012

Woman burned as Britain gets in petrol panic

LONDON: A British minister said the government's handling of a threatened fuel strike had gone "reasonably well", despite a national panic over supplies that ended with a woman suffering petrol burns.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles told Saturday's Daily Telegraph newspaper that Britain was in a "stronger position" following government advice on stocking up on fuel, as some quarters called for ministerial heads to roll.

Motorists have formed huge queues at fuel stations across Britain as panic over the strike spread.



Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday called the second meeting this week of COBRA, the British government's emergencies committee.

"The coalition has had a difficult week, but in terms of what we were trying to do, which was to build some resilience into the system, so that we could withstand a strike, you could say that has worked reasonably well," Pickles said.

"We were simply trying to get out a message -- 'don't run out'."

The government's handling of the issue has drawn fire from opponents, especially after Cabinet member Francis Maude suggested on Wednesday that motorists should fill up jerrycans and keep them in the garage.

One woman from the northern English city of York was badly hurt after petrol that she had stored at home caught fire while she was pouring it from one container into another.

Firefighters said they had found a jerrycan at the scene of the incident in which the 46-year-old woman, named by media as Diane Hill, suffered burns to 40 percent of her body.

She was in a serious but stable condition in hospital, officials said.

The Sun newspaper called Saturday for Maude to quit, branding him "the chief culprit behind the fuel chaos" and describing the government's response to the threatened strike "woeful".

Speaking after the COBRA meeting, Cameron said: "This was absolutely a desperate incident and a terrible thing that has happened to this woman. My heart goes out to her and her family."

He welcomed an announcement by the Unite union, which represents the tanker drivers, not to go on strike over the Easter holiday long weekend from April 6-9, when millions of Britons usually hit the road.

But he urged the drivers to drop the threat of industrial action altogether, ahead of talks at a conciliation service expected on Monday.

"It is vitally important the trade union in question enters these talks on Monday constructively. The most constructive thing they could do would be to call off the strike entirely," he said.

Cameron said the government would "continue with its contingency plans", which include training the British military to drive tankers in case of a strike.

The Times newspaper said Saturday that a fifth of Britain's 8,700 fuel stations had run dry, citing the Automobile Association.

Fuel retailers said petrol sales increased by more than 170 percent and diesel sales were up by almost 80 percent on Thursday as drivers rushed to fill their cars.

There were even reports of people filling up jam jars and washing up liquid bottles from the pumps.

- AFP/cc

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Source From Channel News Asia

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