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French, Italian fishermen take fuel protest to EU

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Police sealed off parts of the European Union district of Brussels on Wednesday as hundreds of fishermen demonstrated against the soaring price of fuel.

The fishermen, mostly from France and Italy, occupied one of the district’s main artery roads, setting off flares close to barricades where police lined up in riot gear and gas masks.

“There are a few hundred of them but more are coming,” police spokesman Christian de Coninck said, adding that the demonstration was not authorized.

French fishermen say they will go bust unless they obtain discounted diesel at 40 euro cents ($0.62) per liter as opposed to 80 euro cents on the market. The price of marine diesel has surged by 30 percent in the past four months.

They also want the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, to intervene by raising the amount of financial aid that a government may grant to its fisheries sector without attracting the scrutiny of EU internal market regulators.

“We are here because every time we ask our own government... they tell us it’s Brussels’ fault. And so we have come to Brussels,” French fisherman Alain Rico told Reuters Television.

“It’s a problem that is shared by all European fishermen so we came here united to ask Brussels to help us,” said Italian fisherman Umberto Cogisnani.

The EU has strict rules about aid doled out by its member states to particular industries and companies, designed to ensure governments grant assistance that does not give one sector in a particular country an unfair trade advantage.

(Reporting by Christian Levaux; writing by Julien Ponthus and Jeremy Smith)

$1=.6411 Euro