Gov’t unable to pacify farmers

As farmers maintained numerous roadblocks at key junctions and border crossings yesterday, Prime Minister George Papandreou appealed to them to rechannel their energy «into making the country more productive» as top-ranking officials of ruling PASOK reportedly disagreed about how to resolve the crisis. The premier, whom the farmers have insisted on meeting to discuss their demands even though he has plainly said that «there is no money,» is due back in Athens today from Strasbourg but will depart tomorrow for the World Economic Forum at Davos. So it is likely that Agricultural Development and Food Minister Katerina Batzeli will have to deal with the farmers. Batzeli, who is due to to hold talks with farmers from Thessaly and Macedonia tomorrow, yesterday joined a meeting of top government officials convened by Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos. According to sources, opinion was divided among officials about how farmers can be persuaded to lift roadblocks that have paralyzed trade and transport for two weeks. The one point on which officials agreed, the sources said, was that trade unionists affiliated to the main opposition New Democracy and the Communist Party (KKE) are supposedly behind the protest action. Some officials also reportedly expressed fears about possible protests in other sectors with financial demands. Meanwhile the disruption on the national road network continued to provoke the anger of other sectors. Intercity (KTEL) bus drivers yesterday threatened to set up their own roadblocks unless a solution to the farmers’ action is found by tomorrow. The continuing presence of tractors at the Promachonas border crossing drew the anger of authorities in Bulgaria, prompting Serres Prefect Stefanos Fotiadis to meet with his counterpart in the adjacent prefecture of Blagoevgrad.

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