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Government officials say Italys truck drivers have agreed to end protest
Italian truckers play a game, as they block the French-Italian border crossing at Ventimiglia, north western Italy, Wednesday Dec. 12, 2007, as they continued their strike. The drivers blocked highways and borders in the third of a five-day walkout protesting high gasoline prices, long working hours and foreign competition. - photo by Associated Press
    ROME — Italy’s truck drivers agreed Wednesday to call off a protest that has blocked highways for three days, causing shortages of gasoline, medicines and perishable foods across Italy, government officials said.
    ‘‘We expect that over the coming hours the situation can go back to normal,’’ said Enrico Letta, Cabinet undersecretary, after talks with union representatives.
    At least two unions said they would immediately end the protest, according to Italian news reports.
    The strike by thousands of drivers idled factories and left many gasoline pumps dry. Many supermarket shelves emptied as perishable goods ran out and new stocks went undelivered.
    ‘‘This is not good. They have no fruit, vegetables and milk,’’ Giovanna Passo, a 40-year-old shopper at a downtown store in Rome, said earlier Wednesday. ‘‘It’s a disaster for my children.’’
    The strike by drivers protesting high gasoline prices, long working hours and foreign competition was originally scheduled to last through Friday.
    Drivers’ representatives walked out of a meeting with the transport minister Tuesday, breaking off negotiations meant to end the strike. Shortly afterward, the drivers defied a government order to go back to work and instead kept up their protest.
    But after a new round of talks Wednesday in Rome, unions decided to call off the strike.
    ‘‘I am satisfied at the outcome of a negotiation that has brought the country back to normal,’’ said Premier Romano Prodi.
    Transport Minister Alessandro Bianchi said, ‘‘a sense of responsibility prevailed in the end’’ among the labor confederations.
    The protest is estimated to have cost farmers and businesses millions of dollars.
    According to the farm lobby Coldiretti, farmers were losing around $73 million a day. The group said it was considering legal action to recoup damages for tons of perishable goods left rotting in warehouses.
    Federalimentare, a food industry lobby, estimated a daily loss of as much as $300 million, while a fishermen’s federation warned that more than $55 million worth of fish was rotting in trucks.
    Automaker Fiat idled thousands of workers because of a lack of supplies at factories.
    Not all truckers’ unions were taking part in the strike, but the blocking of highways was affecting all drivers — including foreign ones.
    Some gasoline trucks were reaching Rome under police escort in an effort to ensure supplies for emergency services and public transportation, the Italian news agency Apcom reported.

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