Petrol station owners in Italy have shut their sites down for three days until Friday in protest at recent price hikes by oil companies, claiming they are putting their businesses and thousands of jobs at risk.

The price of petrol in Italy is the second highest in Europe after Holland at 1.836 euros (£1.60) a litre; diesel is the most expensive in Europe at 1.739 euros (£1.51) a litre.

Small businesses accuse the government of not putting enough pressure on oil companies to cap their prices. The government says it has tried.

Economic development minister Flavio Zanonato said: “At this time I am asking the oil companies to take into account the particularly difficult situation of the Italian economy and also of peoples’ incomes and to not increase the cost of petrol, or to keep the increase to a minimum.”

However, he suggested the price increases were mainly due to increases in crude-oil prices.

The shutdown comes at the start of the main holiday season and there are concerns that the action and the high price of fuel will affect the country’s tourism revenues.