Farmers head for Athens

Cretan farmers are expected to bring their protest over handouts to Athens today by driving their tractors into the city center at the same time that Agricultural Development Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis will be attempting to convince the European Union that the 500 million euros the Greek government wants to pump into the ailing sector does not contravene the bloc’s rules. Despite an attempt by a prosecutor on Crete to stop farmers driving dozens of tractors onto a ferry bound for Piraeus last night, hundreds of disgruntled locals boarded the vessel and plan to drive the vehicles to the Agricultural Development Ministry today. Earlier, Alternate Interior Minister Christos Markoyiannakis, who is responsible for public order matters, had urged the farmers to call off their plans to travel to Athens with their tractors. «They have to understand that they will create a huge problem and will cause everyone in Attica to be against them,» said Markoyiannakis, a Cretan, speaking in Hania. «That is why I am pleading with them to go as people, as farmers, to protest and make demands but not to go with their tractors or cars.» The decision by the Cretan farmers to go ahead with their demonstration, which is expected to cause serious traffic problems in Athens, came as more of their colleagues decided to remove their tractors from road blockades around the country and return home. The farmers who are blocking the Promachonas border crossing in northern Greece were among the few that continued to obstruct traffic yesterday. They are expected to hold talks again on Wednesday before deciding whether to end their protest. Hatzigakis reiterated yesterday that the government does not plan to increase its offer of 500 million euros in handouts to the farmers. He will fly to Brussels today to discuss the financial package with European Union officials amid fears that it contravenes the regulations stipulated by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.

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