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Italy taxi drivers protest wreaks havoc

Written by: Staff

MILAN, July 3 (Reuters) Taxi drivers today wreaked havoc on transport across Italy in the first wave of protest against Prime Minister Romano Prodi's deregulation plans.

Travellers were left stranded at airports and flights were delayed as taxi drivers blocked roads and refused to take passengers in anger over plans to increase the number of licences, which could bring down fares.

Prodi's new centre-left government on Friday announced measures to cut red tape and boost competition for taxi drivers, public transport firms, lawyers and pharmacists.

''There will be a national strike on July 11, but until then taxi drivers in all cities will move as they see fit to express their anger,'' Ermanno Simiani, president of the CAT taxi drivers' union in Bologna, told Reuters.

''If all these licences are issued, there could be people coming into our profession who can't be trusted by passengers.

We have mothers trusting us to carry their children, sick people who call a taxi because it's safe,'' he added.

Some 300 taxi drivers blocked the road to Milan's Linate airport, intending to grab the attention of Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, who was travelling to the city, but in the end he arrived at another airport and did not see the protest.

Taxi drivers also blocked airports in Turin and Rome, and several flights left late as they waited for travellers to arrive on foot or by public transport.

At the weekend, taxis operated during the day but left revellers stranded at night.

In Milan, women in high heels stumbled down cobbled streets, mobile phones glued to their ears trying to track down one of the taxi services.

The government plans to take the reforms further, liberalising the energy market and introducing a tender system for public services from waste collection to gas supplies.

Reuters SHB VP0007

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