NEWS

Farmers mull tractor drive to Athens

The militant farmers of Thessaly will be meeting today at the Vale of Tempe, the gorge through which the country’s main north-south highway passes in central Greece, to decide the next moves in their campaign demanding cotton subsidies and compensation for crop damage. The question on the agenda is whether they will drive their tractors to Athens next week or go by bus. The answer will affect thousands of drivers who may find the country’s main highways jammed by slow-moving tractors on their way to the capital. If the farmers do go to Athens, it is expected to happen on Monday or Tuesday. Whatever they decide, they plan another meeting at Tempe at noon tomorrow which will again block the highway. The road was blocked at Tempe from 10 a.m. yesterday until late at night. Many other roadblocks in northern and central Greece, though, were suspended. Preparing for today, farmers intensified their presence at certain parts of the road network, closing off Tempe for several hours. But fewer farmers were on the roads overall, as many took advantage of the fair weather to go home and work their fields. Prime Minister Costas Simitis, commenting on the two weeks of protests and failed negotiations between the government and farmers of the Panthessalic movement, said that subsidies for one or other product «are not a reason to stop traffic on the roads.» Yesterday, it appeared that differences were emerging between the farmers allied with the Communist Party, which wants more dynamic protests, and those belonging to the conservative New Democracy party. The conservatives union leader accused the government of making secret deals with farmers belonging to the ruling PASOK party. Speaking on Athens’s Skai radio, Athanassios Natsikas, who belongs to New Democracy, charged that before the planting season began, the Agriculture Ministry agreed with PASOK cotton farmers to declare that they had planted wheat and corn, so that it would appear that less cotton had been planted, thus ensuring higher initial payments. Deputy Agriculture Minister Vangelis Argyris replied that production ought to be designed at gaining the maximum in EU funds, adding, «We will not steal, nor will we give away, a single euro.» Draft legislation according Turkish Cypriots the same rights as the Greek Cypriots is now pending in Parliament.