Crete farmers penned in

More than 1,000 farmers from Crete failed in their attempt yesterday to drive their tractors from the port of Piraeus to the center of Athens, but they vowed to remain in the capital after the government failed to meet their demands. The Cretan farmers arrived with 61 tractors and 151 other vehicles on three ferries early yesterday but authorities were prepared and riot police were deployed to block the port exits. The farmers had intended to drive to the Agricultural Development Ministry to protest their plight and scuffles broke out when they found that their path had been blocked. Riot police were pelted with tomatoes and potatoes and PASOK MP Maria Skrafnaki was slightly injured by one of the farmers’ vehicles. The Cretans had demanded a meeting with Agricultural Development Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis even though he was on his way to Brussels to brief European Union officials about the government’s proposals to provide Greek farmers with 500 million euros in aid. The farmers from Crete eventually met with Deputy Economy and Finance Minister Thanassis Bouras, Deputy Agricultural Development Minister Michalis Papadopoulos and Merchant Marine Minister Anastassis Papaligouras. Among the demands the farmers made were for them to receive a guaranteed price of 2.80 euros per kilo for virgin olive oil and for 100 million euros of the 500-million-euro aid package to go to Crete. The government instead offered a reduction in contributions to the Hellenic Agricultural Insurance Organization (OGA), the setting up of a committee to examine whether olive producers should be given greater compensation, an increase in returns of value-added tax (VAT) and an increase in returns of a special consumption tax. However, the two sides could not reach agreement and the Cretan farmers vowed to stay in Piraeus and continue their protest. Meanwhile, the blockade of the Promachonas border crossing by farmers in northern Greece was lifted briefly yesterday to help with the huge line of trucks waiting to reach Bulgaria.

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