France tells drivers to inflate tyres to save fuel

PARIS (Reuters) – France's government on Thursday ruled out any cut in fuel taxes to alleviate the cost of soaring petrol prices, telling motorists they should inflate their tyres and drive more slowly to save fuel.

Rising fuel costs, worsened by the uprising in OPEC-member Libya, are once again climbing up the political agenda in France, where they have triggered protests in recent years. Unleaded gasoline hit a record of 1.80 euros (1.55 pounds) a litre in some service stations this week.

In recent years, striking fishermen and truckers have blocked ports and fuel depots and snarled up motorways in anger at fuel costs, forcing concessions.

Finance Minister Christine Lagarde on Thursday rejected opposition calls for fuel subsidies, saying France must concentrate on cutting its budget deficit. She urged motorists to buy petrol more "shrewdly" and change their behaviour.

"Firstly, you must pay close attention to your tyre pressure, secondly reduce your speed a little bit, thirdly avoid driving in a stop-start manner," she told France Info radio, adding that motorists should turn off their motors if they were stuck in traffic for more than 20 seconds.

The government estimates motorists can reduce their fuel consumption by around 2.4 percent by increasing tyre pressure.

The head of France's national federation of road transporters, Jean-Paul Deneuville, warned this week that higher prices were costing his sector hundreds of millions of euros.

One of Sarkozy's most charismatic ministers, Lagarde became a target for opposition jibes in 2007 when she told citizens to start using bicycles to combat high fuel prices.

Spain has lowered its speed limit in an effort to reduce its dependence on costly imported oil.

Socialist politicians have called for subsidised fuel for the poor to be paid for by oil firms. French oil major Total posted net profits of more than 10 billion euros last year.

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