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Striking taxi drivers in standoff with police in Madrid

MADRID (AP) — Spanish taxi drivers demanding more regulations for app-based ride-hailing services blocked access to a trade exhibition center in Madrid where a major tourism fair begun Wednesday. Riot police trying to clear a blocked highway circling the Spanish capital briefly clashed with the drivers, many wearing the yellow traffic safety vests used by protesters in neighboring France.

The protesters allowed a convoy carrying King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain to enter the exhibition center where the royals opened Fitur, one of the main fairs for the global tourism industry. Other authorities, exhibitors and guests used public transportation to reach the premises.

The drivers say they will continue their open-end strike until regional authorities in Madrid agree to a solution like the one offered Tuesday in Spain's second largest city, Barcelona. Under the pressure of a week-long strike there, the Catalan regional government wants to force users of apps like Uber and Cabify to contract rides one hour in advance.

Madrid's conservative regional chief, Angel Garrido, has refused to take the same step, saying that Barcelona and Catalonia are "heading to the Middle Ages" with such a solution. Cab drivers' unions in Barcelona also blocked major thoroughfares on Wednesday while discussing whether to accept the terms offered, while the web-based companies are threatening to cease operations in the northeastern city.

Unauto VTC, the association representing drivers working mostly for Uber and Cabify, said 3,000 jobs are at stake in Barcelona. In a statement, it said the regional government in Catalonia "has yielded to the blackmail of the taxi drivers, who are again kidnapping the city of Barcelona and using violence to shield their monopoly."

Previous taxi demonstrations have led to violence. A taxi driver was hospitalized on Tuesday with a serious head injury after he was ran over by a car working for an app that he tried to stop. The protests forced regulatory changes at the national level last yer, but Spanish cab drivers consider those insufficient, arguing that their work is regulated as a public service in a way that their competitors' isn't.

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