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Taxi drivers protest in Rome against deregulation

Written by: Staff
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ROME, July 5 (Reuters) Thousands of taxi drivers marched on government buildings in Rome today to protest against a deregulation plan, but riot police blocked most from reaching their goal.

The atmosphere was sometimes tense as police blocked off streets leading to parliament and the offices of the prime minister.

A few hundred taxi drivers managed to reach the area near parliament through back streets but no clashes were reported.

The drivers are demanding that the government withdraw a decree aimed at increasing competition in various sectors of the economy.

The plan would increase the number of taxi licences, with the aim of improving service and perhaps reducing fares.

Drivers have crippled Rome and other cities since the decree was announced last Friday, wreaking havoc on traffic by parking their cars in central squares.

Many taxis have refused to pick up passengers at airports and train stations, causing chaos for arriving tourists.

Taxi drivers in Italy sell their licences on an unofficial grey market when they retire or change jobs. The government's move means that those who already have licences will get less money for them because there will be more on the market.

Government ministers have said they are willing to talk to the taxi drivers about the details but will not withdraw the plan.

Prime Minister Romano Prodi called an impromptu press conference today to say he had no intention of backing down.

''If the government allows itself to be influenced by the demands or the protests of one group or another, it cannot follow its mission which is concerned with public interest,'' Prodi said.

REUTERS SHB BD2136

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