Farmers stand ground after talks collapse

Protesting farmers remained defiant yesterday, pledging to press ahead with a second week of crippling road blockades after a last-ditch meeting with Agricultural Development Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis failed to satisfy their demands. Hatzigakis provided the farmers with the information they had demanded regarding the government’s proposed 500-million-euro aid package, including details about how this funding would be divided per product and per hectare. But farmers were unhappy with the final breakdown and said their protests would continue. The deadlock, which has wreaked havoc on the country’s roads and crippled commercial transport, prompted Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to issue his own appeal. «It is a matter of extreme urgency that the roads reopen,» he said, appealing to the farmers not to hold other social groups hostage when the government has offered them all its budget allows. Owners of intercity coach firms and hoteliers yesterday complained on private television channels about the impact of the farmers’ ongoing action on their business activities. Earlier in the day, more than 35 key junctions across the national road network and crossings along the border with Bulgaria and Turkey remained shut. Blockades set up early last week along the Athens-Thessaloniki national road – including at Mikrothives, Nikaia and Tempe – remained in place as new ones sprang up. Meanwhile disruption spread from central Greece into the Peloponnese as scores of tractors blocked the bridge over the Corinth Canal. The toll gates at Corinth were also blocked by farmers. Several access roads to highways were also sealed off by tractors, creating further congestion. Farmers said they were opening their blockades to allow the passage of trucks carrying cargoes of perishable goods. The only deliveries they were keen to obstruct were imports, they said. Nevertheless, tailbacks stretched for kilometers from Greek border crossings where blockades angered Bulgarian officials who have complained about the action. The crossings at Exochi, Kipi and Promachonas were entirely blocked off while those at Evzoni and Doirani were being opened sporadically. In the Cretan port of Hania, farmers staged a symbolic occupation of government offices.

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