Farmers return to Crete ‘vindicated’

Hundreds of Cretan farmers were on their way home last night after a second day of clashes with riot police at the port of Piraeus that included two top-ranking PASOK officials getting sprayed with tear gas. Yesterday’s unrest erupted when police blockading the port tried to restrain a new boatload of about 100 farmers who had arrived to support their fellow Cretans. Riot police fired tear gas to keep back protesters wielding wooden bats, shepherd’s crooks and other improvised weapons. Opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou, who arrived at the port in an unscheduled visit to talk with protesting farmers, got a bit of a surprise himself when he was engulfed in tear gas. Blinking through the smog, he told farmers that the Socialists supported the farmers. «The government doesn’t want to talk or listen to your demands,» he said. Earlier in the afternoon Piraeus Prefect Yiannis Michas, who is affiliated with PASOK, threatened to take legal action after allegedly receiving a faceful of tear gas himself. «They sprayed me in the face at a distance of 15 centimeters while I was trying to tell them that the PASOK leader was on his way,» Michas said. Police tactics were the subject of a tense exchange in Parliament, with PASOK calling for the resignation of three top Interior Ministry officials and the government condemning the opposition party for exploiting the unrest for its own political gain. As for the farmers, they said they were returning to Crete with their «heads held high,» despite failing to receive assurances from the government regarding their subsidies. But unionists claimed to have «won over the public.» On Crete, thousands of islanders were said to be preparing a hero’s welcome for the returning farmers.

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