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Korean ports crippled as truckers' strike continues

Seoul: More than 23,000 South Korean construction industry drivers went on strike Monday, joining truckers in a protest over rising oil prices which has intensified pressure on President Lee Myung-Bak.
The protest by thousands of truck drivers, now in its fourth day, has already crippled the nation's major ports and inland cargo terminals. Shipping containers are stacking up as trucks stay idle.
The militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) said all its 15,000 members driving dump trucks, bulldozers and concrete mixer lorries walked off the job on Monday.
The Federation of Korean Trade Unions reported that its 8,500 operators of construction vehicles followed suit.
They are demanding steps to cut energy costs or raise their fees in the face of the soaring diesel price, which has risen more than 30 percent since the beginning of the year.
On Monday, port operators again reported less than 20 percent of normal truck movements as 13,000 container truck drivers continued their protest.
The country's biggest port of Busan (pictured), which handles more than 70 percent of the nation's container traffic, struggled to keep its yards from being clogged up by stalled cargo. Military drivers were helping move the containers.
Authorities were also moving cargo onto trains to try to lessen the strike's impact. Police were forced to escort non-striking truck drivers to work because of protesting pickets.
Most trucks have stood idle at major ports since Friday. Some steel mills and electronics firms have been forced to delay shipments.
The government estimates that the strike had halted exports worth 1.69 billion dollars and imports worth 1.78 billion dollars over the past four days, Yonhap news agency reported.
Defence minister Lee Sang-Hee ordered the military to send more drivers and run their own 127 cargo trucks "around the clock."
"This logistics disorder is a social disaster," minister Lee said during a visit to a cargo terminal south of Seoul.
But some port officials demanded the government face the crisis straightforwardly and focus on brokering a solution.
"The government should stop right now relying only on the useless 'risk management manual'," an official at Busan port told Yonhap.
"It needs to realise the crisis it is facing, while the shipping companies and their owners must initiate a resolution of the conflict." [16/6/08]


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