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Europe seeks OPEC's help as high oil prices fuel inflation

LONDON -- European leaders sought relief from high oil prices yesterday, with Britain's Treasury chief urging OPEC to increase production and the French president asking oil companies to further cut prices and boost investment in renewable energy.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin also disclosed partial fuel tax refunds for farmers hit by soaring oil prices following Hurricane Katrina.

With oil prices about 40 percent higher than a year ago, economic angst is growing around Europe. Protesters in Britain prepared for demonstrations at refineries over high fuel taxes, but caused fears of shortages that led to panic buying at some gas stations. Consumer groups pressed for boycotts, and new figures showed energy costs are fueling inflation.

British finance minister Gordon Brown proposed international cooperation to calm roiling oil markets.

''The first action we must take is to tackle the cause of the problem, ensuring concerted global action is taken to bring down world oil prices and stabilize the market for the long term," Brown said in a speech to the Trades Union Congress in Brighton.

''From the additional $300 billion a year in revenue OPEC countries are now enjoying and the additional $800 billion available to oil producers, there must be additional new investment in production and global investment in refining capacity," he added.

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