NEWS

Farmers come to town

Militant farmers belonging to the Communist Party and the main opposition conservative New Democracy party decided yesterday to bring their protests to Athens early next week. At a meeting in Thessaloniki they decided to meet again in the Vale of Tempe in central Greece where they have been blocking the Athens-Thessaloniki highway periodically this week, and to decide what form their protest in Athens would take. They have not yet decided on a date. «The descent to Athens will be carried out, possibly by tractor, possibly with crowds of people, or both. We will try to combine them,» said Athanassios Natsikas, a New Democracy unionist, after the meeting. In the meantime, farmers will try to gather support for the roadblocks that they have already set up in parts of northern and central Greece. Natsikas apologized to the public for the inconvenience but said that the blame lay with the government. Talks between farmers and the government collapsed on Tuesday when the farmers were not satisfied by an offer of 90 billion drachmas in compensation for damaged crops and also demanded to know the price of cotton subsidies. As the final reckoning of how much cotton has been produced has not yet been made, the government has been unable to commit itself to a price. Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Giorgos Drys met in Athens with the official representatives of farmers, the General Confederation of Agricultural Unions of Greece (GESASE) and tried to show that the militants of the «Panthessalian» movement did not speak for most farmers. «The government has to defend the interests of the thousands of farmers, because besides those who are on the roads with their tractors, there are other thousands of farmers who are working in the fields,» Drys said. He said the meeting with GESASE had been «positive» and «fruitful» and had reached agreement on most points. He added that the government was looking seriously at the confederation’s suggestions on the price of cotton subsidies and would consider allowing GESASE to update the registry of farmers itself. Farmers have set up roadblocks in a number of regions in northern Greece, including at Malgara and Halastra near Thessaloniki on the highway to Athens, at Nea Michaniona near Thessaloniki airport and at Nea Chalcedona on the road to Edessa. In Halkidiki, roadblocks have been set up at Nea Moudania, at the village of Ormylia and at Nea Phokaia on the road to Cassandra; in Pieria, at Aiginio on the Athens-Thessaloniki highway and at the Varikos bridge. In Pella, there is a roadblock on the Yiannitsa-Edessa road. In Kilkis, the roadblock is at the Evzones and Doirani border posts, on the way to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. In Serres, the block is at the Bulgaria border at the Petritsi bridge, at Promachona and at Kedryllia on the Thessaloniki-Kavala road.