Protesting Ukraine lorry drivers block key road in tax demo

Protesting Ukraine lorry drivers block key road in tax demo Kiev - Hundreds of Ukrainian lorry drivers protesting against newly-imposed taxes blocked a key motorway connection Odessa with Kiev on Monday, local media reported.

A make-shift barrier of old lorry tyres blocked four of the six lanes on the highway, Ukraine's largest inter-city thoroughfare, according to Korrespondent magazine.

Traffic was forced to a snail's pace as drivers made their way past in the single lane left open in each direction by the protestors.

More than 200 truckers working in 12-hour shifts manned the blockade, set up near Odessa city limits. Orange emergency cones and flashing lights were in place to warn motorists.

Traffic police were on the scene and were directing traffic, but making no attempt to interfere with the protestors or to remove the roadblock, Channel 5 television reported.

The demonstration was an attempt by Ukrainian truckers to draw attention to recently-passed laws aimed at increasing government revenue by targeting lorry transport, said Ihor Semenov, a trucker spokesman.

"And we are not moving until our complaints are heard," he said. "We'll give the authorities 24 hours, and if no one comes to talk to us, we'll shut down the road completely."

Ukraine's government last month changed regulations, hiking customs, road, and vehicle registration fees levied on 18-wheelers.

A key point of dispute between the government and drivers is the operators' license fee. Currently priced at the equivalent of two dollars, the new fee structure would see it rise to around 1,800 dollars.

The price spikes will make freight transport by lorry unprofitable and will force thousands of truckers out of work, leaving Ukrainian cities short of food and fuel, Simenov claimed.

Two heavy lorry drivers committed suicide after the new truck fee system went into effect, "and we have had zero reaction from the authorities," Simenov said.

The pro-Europe government in Kiev faces a ballooning deficit and since the New Year has attempted to increase revenues with across- the-board tax increases, with hikes hitting small business and individual taxpayers particularly hard.

Ukraine Transport Minister Iosif Vinsky told Channel 5 television last week that fee increases on the trucking industry were necessary as previously the country's lorry drivers had effectively paid no taxes, nor been regulated by the state. (dpa)