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South Korean Truck Drivers Strike Over Fuel Costs

More than 5,000 truckers stopped work, demanding the government increase fuel subsidies, help raise transportation charges and introduce a minimum wage.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Thousands of South Korean truck drivers launched a strike Friday to protest surging oil prices, threatening to paralyze the country's major seaports and cause severe losses to exporters.

More than 5,000 truckers stopped work at midnight Thursday demanding the government to increase fuel subsidies, help raise transportation charges and introduce a minimum wage.

''We are suffering from rising oil prices and there should be corresponding measures like a raise in transportation charges,'' said Chung Hee-seon, an official at the Korean Cargo Workers' Union, which spearheaded the shutdown.

She said the number of striking truckers will quickly increase as more than 90 percent of 13,000 union members voted to go on strike earlier this week. Chung said some non-unionized truckers also joined the strike.

Earlier this week, union leaders and government officials held several rounds of negotiations on the truckers' demands but failed to reach a breakthrough.

The strike was expected to cripple operations in South Korean ports and cause massive losses to exporters, even if it lasts only a few days.

A two-week strike by about 6,000 truckers in May 2003 caused US$540 million in losses to exporters, according to the Korea International Trade Association, a private association of local exporters and importers.

The government said it planned to dispatch 100 military trucks and use trains to transport cargo.

The strike is the latest headache for President Lee Myung-bak, who has faced weeks of street demonstrations over his agreement to resume American beef imports.

Two of South Korea's top companies reported no major disruptions as a result of the strike.

Samsung Electronics Co. said it had so far felt no impact, while Hyundai Motor Co., which can load vehicles onto ships at its main auto plant, reported no affect on exports.

Hyundai spokesman Ki Jin-ho said, however, there were some delays in transporting vehicles domestically, which was causing ''some inconvenience to customers.''

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