A farmer rides on the front of a tractor as it is driven into Syntagma Square in front of the Parliament in Athens on Friday night. Seventeen tractors were allowed to enter the city center to take part in the protest.
After being blindsided by both the size and ferocity of Friday’s protest in central Athens by farmers who oppose social security reforms, the government has renewed its appeal to the protesters to come to the negotiating table.
An estimated 10,000 protesters gathered in Syntagma Square on Friday and until late last night hundreds remained in front of Parliament, singing, dancing and chanting slogans despite the cold wind and rain. A few dozen also pitched tents on the square, expressing their intention to camp out over the weekend.
The mood was much improved from earlier in the day, when some 3,000 farmers from Crete clashed with police who prevented them from entering the Agriculture Ministry. The farmers responded by throwing rocks, hitting officers with crooks and threatening to spray them with pesticides. Ten officers were injured, four of whom had to be taken to hospital, and four protesters arrested.
Tempers were also running high in Haidari, western Athens, when farmers trying to get past a police blockade clashed with riot officers who had been sent to the location to prevent tractors from being driven into the city center. There, too, officers were pelted with rocks and the police responded with tear gas. Alternate Minister for Citizens’ Protection Nikos Toskas downplayed the violence, telling Skai TV that it had been provoked by “far-right elements,” pointing the finger at ultranationalist party Golden Dawn.
A separate group of farmers targeted the Attiki Odos ring road and Markopoulo Avenue, which link the city to its airport, blocking the road and forcing some passengers with flights to catch to cover the distance on foot. The action lasted for under 30 minutes, until the protesters headed to Athens.
Labour Minister Giorgos Katrougalos issued a fresh appeal to the farmers to sit down and talk about their objections to increases in their social security contributions and taxes. He said that each side had to “look each other in the eyes.”
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is under pressure to finalize an agreement with Greece’s lenders over pension reforms that have to deliver a total of 1.8 billion euros in savings. He is expected to travel to Paris on Wednesday and then on to Brussels for a European Union leaders’ summit on Thursday and Friday.