Talks with farmers fail

Motorists, truck drivers and businesses around the country will have to endure more misery after a bid failed yesterday to end the farmers’ protests that have closed national roads and border crossings for the last two weeks. Agricultural Development Minister Katerina Batzeli held talks with representatives of farmers’ unions in the hope of settling a dispute that centers on financial assistance for the agricultural sector. Batzeli appeared to increase the tension surrounding the talks by suggesting to a Sunday newspaper that the protests were largely the result of some farmers bullying others into setting up roadblocks. Although the details of what the two sides discussed yesterday had not been made public by last night, it was clear that there was some distance between the government’s position, dictated by the poor state of Greece’s economy – which does not allow any room for handouts – and that of the farmers, who seem intent on continuing their protests. «We stand by the farmers in their struggles,» said Batzeli after the meeting. «We will go down the path of making institutional changes in the agricultural sector. The farmers know the problems and I hope they will make the correct decisions, for the good of society,» she stated. Farmers from Thessaly, central Greece, immediately indicated their intention to block from 11 a.m. to 2.30 p.m. the diversions around the Vale of Tempe section of the Athens-Thessaloniki highway, which has been closed since December because of a major rockfall. Farmers yesterday also blocked trucks from boarding ferries at the port of Igoumenitsa in northwestern Greece. The blockade at the Promahonas border crossing with Bulgaria also looks set to remain in place, despite talks between Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and Greek farmers on Friday. The outcome of yesterday’s talks and the continuing protests by farmers do not bode well for a two-day roundtable between the government and representatives from the agricultural sector, which is due to start at Zappeio Hall in Athens today.

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