Farmers’ unity shaken as key blockade lifted

Protesting farmers maintained road blockades in many parts of the country for a ninth day yesterday, though a meeting between Agricultural Development Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis and producers in the Peloponnese and Agrinio did lead to the lifting of a major blockade on the bridge over the Corinth Canal. The government was quietly confident last night that the farmers’ crippling industrial action would start fizzling out, sources told Kathimerini. The optimism followed a successful meeting between Hatzigakis and farmers in Corinth. The farmers declared their satisfaction with the minister’s pledges to include local raisin and potato production in a proposed 500-million-euro aid package and to partially compensate losses in local olive oil production caused by forest fires and floods. The government also pledged an additional 35 million euros in benefits to the original aid package, although it was unclear who the beneficiaries would be. At Tempe in Thessaly, where hundreds of farmers kept their tractors parked on the national highway, producers issued a mixed response to news of the additional offer. Some expressed fears that the new benefits might be subtracted from one group of producers and given to another. Farmers in Thessaly and other regions are due to meet this morning to decide whether to continue their action. Yesterday most of the blockades remained in place along the Athens-Thessaloniki national road. Transport has been severely hit by the ongoing action. Many intercity coach routes have been canceled and coach firm representatives claim to have suffered more than a million euros in losses due to the action. Hoteliers in popular winter destinations across the country said their business has plummeted, with the action aggravating the impact of the global economic crisis. Blockades at border crossings also persisted yesterday, prompting Bulgarian government officials to ask the European Commission to intervene «and ensure at least one permanent transport corridor for Bulgarian freight and passenger vehicles.» In Brussels, officials are reportedly awaiting the final details of the government’s aid offer to farmers to ensure it does not violate EU limits. If it does, the next tranche of the country’s EU funding may be cut.

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