Cotton farmers take the plunge

Protesting cotton farmers in Thessaly decided late yesterday to up the stakes in their confrontation with the government by blocking off the main highway between northern and southern Greece for at least a day. The farmers plan to keep hundreds of tractors on the Athens-to-Thessaloniki highway at the Tempe tollgates, some 400 kilometers north of the capital, from 10 a.m. today until 10.a.m. tomorrow, when they will meet again to consider further action. Protesters are seeking more crop subsidies through an increase to their production quota. But the government has repeatedly ruled this out, saying such a move would break European Union regulations and draw punitive action from Brussels. Instead, Agriculture Minister Evangelos Bassiakos has sought to effectively render more of the crop eligible by eliminating fraudulent claims. Talks broke down earlier this week, with farmers appealing – without success – for a private meeting with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.