By Eduardo Simões
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil's government authorized the military on Friday to clear highways blockaded by protesting truckers, a government official said, after the nationwide protests entered a fifth day despite an agreement by most participants to end the demonstrations.
The fifth day of protests by truck drivers paralyzed major sectors of Latin America's biggest economy and led the city of Sao Paulo, the region's biggest business hub, to declare a state of emergency due to scarce fuel supplies.
President Michel Temer decided to authorize the army, along with federal highway police and state police forces, to clear major roadways following a meeting with ministers in the capital Brasilia, said the official, who requested anonymity because the decision had not been publicly announced.
Negotiators for several trucker groups agreed late on Thursday to suspend their blockages for 15 days after the government vowed to subsidize and stabilize diesel prices, which may cost 5 billion reais ($1.4 billion) this year.
But Abcam, a trucking group that ignited the strike and says it represents about 600,000 drivers, was not among the parties that signed the accord, raising serious questions about how truckers would respond to government concessions.
By Friday afternoon, the strike showed no signs of letting up and its impact on Brazilians' daily lives and several key economic sectors in the commodity powerhouse persisted.
No trucks were able to enter the Santos port, Latin America's largest, and oilseeds crushing group Abiove told Reuters that soy exports would halt on Saturday if truckers did allow access to major ports.
Brazilian meat group ABPA said 152 poultry and pork processing plants had indefinitely suspended production. Lack of feed supplies may cause millions of birds and hogs to die.
Gas stations ran out of fuel across the country, while consumers hit grocery stores in a panic in several areas, emptying shelves. Public transport and trash collection was reduced or halted across the country.
To win over truckers, who began the blockades on Monday to protest high fuel prices, the government also promised to extend for 30 days a 10 percent diesel price cut announced by state-led oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA.
Shares of Petrobras, as the company is known, rose more than 2 percent in early trading after plunging 19 percent in the prior two days, as news of government subsidies softened the blow of political interference in the firm's fuel pricing.
Auto production in Brazil, which contributes about a quarter of industrial output, ground to a halt on Friday in the latest blow to a fragile economic recovery following the worst downturn in decades.
($1 = 3.65 reais)
(Reporting by Eduardo Simões; Additional reporting by Gram Slattery, Jose Roberto Gomes, Ana Mano and Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo; Editing by Brad Haynes and Dan Grebler)
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Updated Date: May 26, 2018 00:06:34 IST