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Oil tanker owners call off strike
By Tariq Butt / REUTERS July 27, 2017
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KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: Owners of Pakistani fuel tankers ended their protest strike on its third day on Wednesday, dispelling fears of a fuel shortage that had prompted long queues of panicked fuel buyers at petrol stations countrywide.

Pakistan has 10 to 11 days of oil stock reserves, media said, but many service stations were shuttered, and carried “Petrol Finished” signs, following panic buying in the nation of nearly 200 million people.

Tanker owners were protesting against police corruption and a new safety push by the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) following one of the worst accidents in Pakistan’s history last month, a fuel tanker explosion that killed 216 people.

The second session of talks between the government and All Pakistan Oil Tankers Association (APOTA) became successful after the APOTA members were assured that their demand for an increase in freight fares will be considered.

“The oil supply will resume by 4:00pm,” said Yousaf Shiwani, president of the oil tankers’ association, adding that government officials had accepted the body’s demands to extend the timeframe to adopt the new safety measures.

The APOTA has been on strike since July 24, for an indefinite period, in protest over a number of issues pertaining to the issuance of traffic fines by the Motorway police, strict regulations relating to the fitness of their vehicles and differences over transportation fare with the oil marketing companies.

The tankers’ operators had said that they would continue their strike until their demands were met by the government and refused to follow safety standards introduced in 2009.

Big crowds of motorists and motorcyclists were witnessed at filling stations, especially at the government-owned Pakistan State Oil (PSO) outlets, where fuel is supplied by the PSO’s own tankers.

Due to the shortage of fuel, transport on roads was less than normal and people are facing difficulties in reaching their offices. On the other hand, Ogra suspected the oil marketing companies for orchestrating the strike through oil tankers owners and pledged not to compromise on safety standards.

As fears of a fuel shortage peaked, protesters in the southern port city of Karachi attacked tankers earlier on Wednesday, at least one of them appearing to involve gunfire.

“The latest attack took place this morning, in which the tanker driver suffered gunshot injuries,” Naseem Aftab, a spokesman for PSO, told Reuters, adding that three of the company’s tankers had been targeted.

Pakistan’s safety regulator suspected oil marketing companies were backing the strike and would “expose” the firms, its spokesman said.

“We will not allow this blackmailing,” Ogra spokesman Imran Ghazanvi told a news conference.

But the bribes continually demanded by motorway, traffic and excise police can prove ruinous, said Shamas Shiwani, vice-chairman of the All-Pakistan Tankers’ Association.

“A tanker driver has to pay so much in extortion that he hardly manages to keep his clothes,” he told Reuters.

Petrol stations in the Punjabi city of Multan had mostly exhausted stocks, media said, while Peshawar and other cities limited the value of fuel purchases to 1,000 rupees ($9.50) per car and 100 rupees per motorbike.

“It is better to fill the tank,” said Waseem Sheikh, one of hundreds queuing at a Shell petrol station in Islamabad, the capital. “I don’t want to face a hard time just because I don’t have fuel in my car.”

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