http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/world/2607543 June 3, 2004, 3:21PM Average gasoline price hits $5.79 in England Associated Press LONDON -- Prime Minister Tony Blair's government said today it had no plans to shelve a scheduled hike in fuel taxes despite the threat of disruptive protests. Surging world oil prices have pushed average retail gasoline prices to $5.79 a gallon in Britain. A loose coalition of truckers and farmers, who blockaded fuel depots across Britain in 2000, have threatened similar action if prices do not fall. Together with the main opposition Conservative Party, they are demanding the government shelve plans to increase fuel tax by 13 cents a gallon in September. Blair shrugged off the pressure, noting OPEC's agreement today to raise its oil production ceiling by 2 million barrels a day next month in a bid to rein in prices. "We've simply got to see how that settles down," he said. "Of course we are sympathetic to the concerns of business and indeed motorists." "I think we will approach that ... by balancing these interests in a sensible way. We don't need to take the decision right now, but we will take it later," he added. Transport Secretary Alistair Darling said today the government had lobbied OPEC countries to increase production and said its taxation policy would not be swayed by protests. "I think we should just look at this is in a measured way. We have a problem with international oil prices, we are doing our best to sort that out," he told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. "What you don't do when you are setting tax policy is allow yourself to be battered around from day to day," he added. Protesters have scheduled a demonstration for next Wednesday, planning a slow-moving convoy of trucks blocking traffic in the northern English city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. David Handley, one of the organizers of the fuel protests of September 2000, warned that further action would be taken if prices did not fall. Conservative leader Michael Howard said today he would support lawful protests and insisted the government should drop its plans for a tax hike. "People are entitled to protest peacefully and within the law," he told GMTV television. "My main message is a very simple one to (Treasury chief) Gordon Brown and that is do not put fuel duty up in September." The government accused the Conservatives of political opportunism before the June 10 European Parliament and local council elections. Britain's fuel taxes account for nearly three-quarters of the cost of gasoline and are among Europe's highest. The tax is $3.35 a gallon). OPEC agreed today to raise its production ceiling by 2 million barrels a day next month in a bid to bring down uncomfortably high prices of crude. But analysts say consumers won't be paying less for gasoline anytime soon, as factors such as refinery constraints will continue to have an effect at the pump.