Romanian blockade of Danube to end Sunday

BUCHAREST, Sep 10, 2000 -- (AFP) Romanian ship owners and port operators are to call off their blockade of the Danube river following a meeting with Romanian Foreign Minister Petre Roman, organizers of the protest said Saturday.

The blockade would be lifted Sunday, after Roman backed the protestors claims, they said.

Eleven Russian and Ukrainian convoys were backed up Saturday at the southern Romanian port of Calarasi, at a point on the Danube just north of where it becomes the natural border between Romania and Bulgaria before flowing into Serbia.

Ship owners were calling for the Romanian government to reduce taxes and charges to compensate for their loss of income since the Danube in Serbia was made unnavigable last year.

They said they had lost 150 million dollars since the NATO bombing campaign destroyed several bridges and made it is impossible for ships to pass through the region.

They were also demanding social assistance for some 4,000 workers made redundant by the lack of navigation, and warned that another 3,500 will lose their jobs if the government does not exert pressure for the river to be reopened to shipping.

Ship owners said they are subject of discrimination in Serbia, where vessels flying anything other than the Romanian flag are authorized to use a secondary canal which bypasses the closed section of the river.

The government said it would examine the protesters' demands next week.

The European Union has said it will contribute EUR 20 million (USD 17.4 million) to the clean-up of the Danube, but Belgrade has delayed giving a green light to the work.

Original article