Soft approach in dispute with farmers

More farmers joined roadblocks across Greece yesterday, as the government decided that following the path of least resistance in the face of growing protests would be the best policy despite anger from neighboring countries due to trade being hampered by the action. Farmers from Thessaloniki, Evros, the Peloponnese and Crete added their presence to existing protests and their colleagues from Larissa, Magnesia, Pieria, Pella, Grevena and Kozani are due to join in today. Representatives of farmers from 14 prefectures met in Veria, northern Greece, yesterday and decided to step up their action, which is based around a series of financial demands and requests for reforms to be carried out in the agricultural sector. Supreme Court prosecutor Yiannis Tentes spoke to his subordinates around the country and instructed them to issue charges against those involved only in cases where traffic was being severely affected. Apart from causing problems on various sections of Greece’s highways, the farmers have also mounted blocks on the roads leading to the country’s border crossings with Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Romania and Bulgaria. This prompted Bucharest and Sofia to complain about the closures. «We will appeal to the European Commission to intervene immediately,» said Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. «Unless the border posts are reopened by Wednesday, we will demand action.» The government, however, seems unwilling to engage in any action that could cause it to clash with the farmers, preferring instead to air its views at round-table discussions with unionists that are due to begin in Athens on Monday. This tactic was approved at a Cabinet meeting yesterday, when Prime Minister George Papandreou assured his ministers that he fully understands the problems faced by farmers but that he does not want PASOK to appease them with short-term measures, preferring instead to find permanent solutions. «We have a plan, which will be revealed during [next week’s] discussions,» said government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis. «We will ultimately convince the farmers that the government is capable of adopting immediate measures, in which we want them to have a say.»

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