Farmers are out in force

Farmers ramped up their protests yesterday, closing national roads at six more points, and appearing to catch the government, which insists that it has no extra money to give them, unprepared. Eight roadblocks had already been set up on Friday and the decision by farmers yesterday to park their tractors on roads leading to Greece’s borders with neighboring countries is set to make it even more difficult for people and goods to be transported around the country. There are no blocks on the Athens-Thessaloniki national road, which is already burdened by the closure of the Vale of Tempe section due to a December rockfall, and the Egnatia Highway which runs between northeastern and northwestern Greece. Furthermore, farmers are also protesting in Evros, Serres, Kilkis, Florina and Thessaly and have blocked access to the borders with Bulgaria, Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, although they said that these blockades would not be in place around the clock, so some goods would be able to pass through. As opposed to previous years, the focus of the protests is in northern, rather than central, Greece, although this may change today when unionists from Thessaly that are affiliated with New Democracy are set to join in the protests. The farmers are demanding better prices for their produce, more substantial compensation for poor crops and increased subsidies. In a departure from recent protests, they are also asking for reforms in the agriculture sector. The government has organized a two-day conference, on January 25 and 26, to discuss farming matters with representatives of the sector and has turned down requests by unionists for a meeting with Prime Minister George Papandreou. PASOK has also made it clear to the farmers that there is no way that extra money for them will be found in the budget. «There is no more room for other subsidies,» Deputy Finance Minister Filippos Sachinidis told farmers in Thessaly on Sunday.

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