NEWS

Potato riot at Cyprus airport

LARNACA, Cyprus (AP) – Protesting potato farmers who blocked the runway at Cyprus’s main airport for four hours on Saturday – delaying the flights of some 2,000 passengers – got a treat for ending their sit-in: sandwiches and tea in the VIP lounge. But the 150 farmers nearly got assaulted during the final hour of their protest when angry passengers broke out of the Larnaca airport terminal building and rushed toward the runway in a bid to clear it by force. «You sissies!» passengers shouted at the policemen surrounding the farmers. «Why don’t you do something! Move out of the way and let us do it!» the travelers shouted as they wrestled with police trying to stop them from reaching the farmers. The farmers had charged on to the runway at 2 p.m. local time (1200 GMT) to protest against the government’s failure to compensate them for a potato crop that was destroyed by hail in 2001. Their sit-in caused seven incoming flights to Larnaca’s airport, to be diverted to Paphos, on the southwestern side of the island. A similar number of flights were delayed in taking off. A squad of about 300 policemen surrounded the farmers, but neither persuaded them nor tried to force them to leave. As darkness fell and the temperature dropped to 8 degrees Celsius (46 Fahrenheit), Justice Minister Alecos Shambos persuaded the farmers to retire to the VIP lounge, where they received refreshments. Shambos promised the farmers that the government would deal with their compensation before Christmas Day. «If the government pays these law breakers a single pound, we will also demand compensation for the millions we have lost as a result of the stoppage,» the general manager of Cyprus Airways, Haris Loizides, told state radio.