Gov’t using wait-and-see tactics over farmers' protests

As thousands of farmers gathered at key road junctions around the country on Thursday, pushing for concessions from a new tax bill, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras chaired a meeting with key ministers in a bid to stop the burgeoning protest from becoming a new point of conflict between the government and society.

The growing presence of protesting farmers – and their tractors – at major junctions such as the one at Nikaia on the Athens-Thessaloniki national highway was reportedly the focus of talks between Samaras, Agricultural Development Minister Athanassios Tsaftaris and State Minister Dimitris Stamatis. The majority of the farmers involved in the current blockades are affiliated with the Communist Party (KKE) though a growing number of protesters are aligned with conservative New Democracy.

Sources told Kathimerini that the government is keen to nip the protests in the bud. But neither Samaras nor his ministers have taken any concerted action to diffuse the tension, a fact which is said to have puzzled some government officials.

The outcome of the current deadlock will depend on a series of factors, sources told Kathimerini, including the reaction by KKE’s leadership and cadres to the arrest of 35 members of the KKE-affiliated labor union PAME who are accused of raiding and vandalizing the office of Labor Minister Yannis Vroutsis earlier this week. The unionists’ trial was put off until February 12 as hundreds of supporters gathered outside the capital’s court complex in Evelpidon to express solidarity with the defendants.

Government officials reportedly want to stick to a law enforcement drive but without provoking more intense protests from KKE.

Farmers are not Samaras’s only concern. Seamen are to continue with a 48-hour walkout today, protesting a new plan for coastal shipping which, protesters fear, will result in job losses.

Meanwhile, more than two weeks of disruption in the public transport sector comes to an end on Friday as staff protesting wage cuts return to work.