NEWS

Farmers take protests to Salonica

Under pressure from thousands of tobacco farmers who demonstrated in northern Greece yesterday against the prospect of cuts in European Union subsidies, Prime Minister Costas Simitis said Greece would do its best to oppose such a decision from Brussels. Today, Agriculture Minister Giorgos Drys will attend a meeting of his EU colleagues, where he will seek the cooperation of Spain and Italy – also major tobacco producers – in staving off subsidy cuts. Greece will oppose such decisions, Simitis told journalists after a meeting with President Costis Stephanopoulos. The European Parliament has passed an amendment to the first reading of the EU budget, according to which tobacco subsidies should be reduced 20 percent a year until they are finally abolished. Thousands of tobacco growers from central and northern Greece demonstrated in Thessaloniki’s Aristotelous Square yesterday against the prospect of subsidy cuts. Organizers said 20,000 people attended, while police estimates placed participation at 7,500. About 35 local MPs, including many from both ruling PASOK and opposition New Democracy, were present along with farm unionists from France, Germany and the chairman of the international tobacco growers’ union. Speakers claimed that 300,000 Greeks who subsist on tobacco growing would lose their source of income if the subsidies are scrapped. Another demonstration was held in the central Greek town of Trikala by local cotton farmers who are worried at the prospect of low crop prices this year. Thessaloniki cotton farmers will converge their tractors at strategic road intersections today without actually blocking traffic, for the time being. In late 1996 and 1997, farmers in Thessaly, Macedonia and other parts of Greece rebelled over cotton prices and debt relief, blocking highways for days on end with their tractors. Yesterday, Simitis said cotton farmers should not despair. Inspections will have to be carried out to determine the final pricewhich cannot be set at this point, he said. I think this figure will be lower than last year’s high prices, but not as low as some people have calculated it. Infant chokes. A two-year-old girl died in Dendropotamos, Thessaloniki, on Sunday night after choking on an olive pit. The child, identified as K. M., was in her grandfather’s home when she ate the olive. She was rushed to the hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival.