( AFP ) - Italy's transport minister ordered the end of a highly-disruptive truck drivers' strike Tuesday, saying the move was necessary to protect the delivery of essential supplies.
Alessandro Bianchi issued the decree after talks broke down between unions and government on the second day of a planned five-day strike.
The decree orders the unions to instruct their members to abandon their protest against rising fuel prices and return to work from midnight Tuesday.
"This measure was deemed necessary because of the gravity of the situation on the road and motorway network," Bianchi said in a statement.
The statement added that without a return to work there would be very serious consequences "for the distribution of essential goods necessary to the fundamental rights of citizens".
Earlier Tuesday, the FEGICA-CISL petrol station union reported pumps going dry at around 60 percent of fuelling stations. Long queues have formed, and the union said some stations had not had deliveries since Friday.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Fiat motor firm said it had shut down its five Italian plants because the strike had affected deliveries of parts.
Earlier Tuesday the main striking unions abandoned talks with transport ministry officials, and no further negotiations were scheduled.
"The talks were not even opened, the meeting was cut short because the transport minister had no wish to discuss our demands," Pasquale Russo, the secretary general of Conftrasporto, the alliance representing the majority of the striking unions, told AFP.The unions are demanding greater financial help to compensate for the higher price of diesel.
"It is essential that we get back the increase in diesel oil prices," said the FAI union, one of seven that called the strike that began Monday.
Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi had earlier warned, according to ANSA agency, that striking was "not the way to confront problems".
Unions said more than 90 percent of drivers were heeding the strike call, employed by more than 100,000 businesses responsible for the delivery of 84 percent of transported goods in Italy.
Road blocks and go-slow convoys devised by the striking drivers on several motorways have severely affected transportation.
Up to 2,000 lorries parked up overnight at the French-Italian border, according to the ANSA news agency
The Italian authority for social conflict resolution earlier called on the transport ministry to requisition lorries and drivers, calling the current blockage illegal and complaining of the "disruption" in public services.
The Consumers' Association, Codacons, called for the police to intervene.
On November 30, unions staged Italy's largest transport strike in 25 years, causing widespread chaos with hundreds of flights cancelled and trains, buses, ferries, emergency services and even hearses out of action.