Protesting farmers in Greece cut country in half

28th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

The blockades caused several kilometers of traffic jams, as thousands of trucks were prevented from leaving the country.

Athens -- In the ninth day of their protest against the Greek government over falling commodity prices, farmers cut access to all major highways and blocked border crossings with Bulgaria and Turkey.

Over 70 blockades sliced the country in half, with farmers occupying key junctions along the highway that connects the Greek capital with the second-largest city of Thessaloniki in the north and other roads in northern Greece.

Thousands of farmers demanding tax rebates and subsidies kept all border crossings into Bulgaria shut and also blockaded borders with Macedonia, Albania and Turkey in recent days. Freight traffic at those borders was paralyzed, and only emergency medical supplies were allowed to pass.

Scores of farmers used their tractors to block the narrow Isthmus of Corinth Monday, the bridge connecting Athens and the Peloponnese peninsula, after emergency talks with the government failed despite promises of relief totaling 500 million euros (650 million dollars).

Agriculture Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis said the government would not increase its 500 million euro offer after holding talks with union leaders late Monday.

“The state will stick to its policy," Hatzigakis said.

The farmers are demanding an increase in government subsidies and pensions after incomes dropped by almost one-quarter in the past 10 years, owing to shrinking EU grants and falling commodity prices.

"We are not leaving until the government meets our demands," said Farmer Union leader Gerasimos Kalimaris. "We need precise details about subsidies per hectare."

The blockades caused several kilometers of traffic jams as thousands of trucks were prevented from leaving the country. Over the past week, there were reports of farmers clashing with truck drivers whose loads of meat and produce lay rotting.

Many truck drivers could be seen burning meat at various northern border crossings to protest the blockades.

Tractors were also deployed along the highway that connects the cities of Hania and Irakleio on the southern Mediterranean island of Crete.

Producers said they are particularly upset about the plummeting prices of cotton, corn and wheat, which are set by the European Union, and said they are struggling to make a living. They are demanding details of exact subsidies on specific agricultural products like cotton and olive oil.

The Association of Northern Greek Industries urged the government to resolve the strike quickly, saying it was hurting a manufacturing sector that was already suffering from falling demand for exports and a dockworkers strike.

A similar protest in 1997 also ended up cutting Greece in two for several weeks, forcing the Socialist government that was then in power to sabotage the tractors by puncturing their tires.


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