Farmers reject aid offer, push on with action

Protesting farmers yesterday rejected a 500-million-euro aid package offered to them by Agricultural Development Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis, saying that it did not offer a clear solution to their problems, and pledged to increase the number of blockades at key road junctions across the country unless a better offer is made. Farmers, who have been protesting falling commodity prices, last night kept their tractors parked at key road junctions for a fourth day and threatened to also block access roads to major highways unless authorities make a better offer. Hatzigakis said yesterday evening that the package was «the maximum» the government could offer. His proposal was submitted to unionists at lunchtime following several hours of negotiations with them in talks that also involved Economy and Finance Minister Yiannis Papathanassiou and Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias. The farmers’ demands include higher subsidies and pension payments as well as lower fuel taxes. They complain that the plunging prices of cotton, corn and wheat, set by the European Union, mean they are struggling to make a living. Reacting to Hatzigakis’s offer yesterday, one unionist said that an overall figure was inadequate, noting that farmers wanted to know how much their subsidies would increase per hectare. Several road blockades remained in place in northern and central Greece yesterday as farmers sought to convince the government that they mean business. Farmers kept their tractors parked at a string of crucial junctions along the national road network, including Tempe and Mikrothives in Magnesia. One of the largest blockades was on the Egnatia Highway at the Kavala junction. There were also problems near the border with Bulgaria. Tractors remained at the Promachonas border crossing for a second day with tensions peaking when 15 of them surged over the border and were pushed back by Bulgarian soldiers. Protests in Crete were more low-key than earlier this week when Iraklion airport was occupied by some 1,500 local farmers. The action, which led to countless flights being canceled, could be repeated if farmers’ demands are not met, some unionists warned yesterday.

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