Government warnings that motorists should stock up at the pump ahead of a threatened strike by British fuel tanker drivers prompted scattered outbreaks of panic buying Thursday.
Gasoline sales have surged more than 80 percent, jerry cans are flying off the shelves, and - in at least some places in southwest England - lines have become so long that police ordered stations to close to ease congestion.
"I'm very, very busy," said Balaji Adusuballi, who helps run the White Mare Pool Shell station in the northern England city of Gateshead, where the line of cars stretched out into the road. "There's a queue since this morning. It's very unusual."
A drivers' association laid the blame for the sudden surge in demand on the government's reaction to a threatened strike by the Unite union, which could close thousands of gas stations. Although a strike date hasn't been set - and there has to be a weeklong warning period - ministers have been advising Britons that it would be sensible to make sure they had extra gasoline just in case.
Opposition politicians have accused the ruling Conservative Party of inflaming the situation after days of negative headlines over party donors and controversy over the government's deficit-reduction plans.
"They made a crude decision to play politics with petrol without regard for the consequence," Labour Party leader Ed Miliband said.
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