May 26, 2008
LONDON -- The British capital's new mayor, Boris Johnson, said Sunday he was ending a controversial deal that has provided cheap Venezuelan fuel for London's transport network.
The agreement, signed last year by the Conservative Johnson's predecessor and Labour Party rival, Ken Livingstone, provided discounted oil for London's iconic red buses in exchange for advice on urban planning in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital.
Money saved on oil was put into a program providing half-rate bus fares for low-income Londoners. Livingstone said the anti-poverty initiative was the idea of Venezuela's left-wing leader, Hugo Chávez, whom Livingstone said he has long admired.
Conservative critics said the deal allowed one of the world's richest cities to exploit a lesser developed country and handed a propaganda coup to a man they called ``a third-rate South American dictator.''
Johnson echoed those criticisms in a statement announcing he would not renew the agreement when it expires in August.
''I think many Londoners felt uncomfortable about the bus operation of one of the world's financial powerhouses being funded by the people of a country where many people live in extreme poverty,'' he said.
The statement said poor Londoners could continue to take advantage of the reduced fares until the program ran its course. A spokesman for the mayor said there were no plans to offer low-income residents advantageous bus fares beyond that point.