NEWS

Minister seeks farmers deal

Agriculture Minister Katerina Batzeli is today to sit down and try and reach a compromise with protesting farmers who have been blocking the country’s roads and border crossings for the past two weeks, causing serious trade and transport problems and straining cross-border relations. Batzeli’s first scheduled meeting, in the early afternoon, is with representatives of farm unions affiliated with ruling PASOK. Talks due later in the day, with farmers affiliated with the main opposition New Democracy conservatives and the Communist Party (KKE) – who are behind the 13 major roadblocks in place in Thessaly and Macedonia – are certain to be far more testing, not least because the farmers themselves have yet to reach a consensus on their demands. Representatives of the different groups are due to meet in Nea Malgara, near Thessaloniki, with the aim of agreeing on a list of demands that they intend to later present to Batzeli. There were signs yesterday that some group leaders were reluctant to yield on any of their demands, while others appeared more flexible. Vangelis Boutas, the leader of the roadblock in Nikaia, central Greece, insisted over the past few days that he is unwilling to cooperate with the ND-affiliated unionists who have been blocking the Platykambos and Tyrnavos road junctions. But Pavlos Arabatzis, the head of the roadblock in place at the Promachonas border crossing with Bulgaria, yesterday suggested that conservative and Communist-affiliated farmers might have some common ground after all. «Tomorrow representatives of all roadblocks are invited to Promachonas to discuss proposals we have drafted together with Mr Boutas,» Arabatzis said. Meanwhile, dozens of roadblocks across the country continued to cause problems for trade and transport, both domestic and cross-border. KTEL intercity bus routes between Athens and Serres, in northern Greece, were suspended due to severe disruptions caused by the farmers’ action. These problems were aggravated after farmers set up additional roadblocks on diversions around the Vale of Tempe section of the Athens-Thessaloniki highway, closed since December because of a major rockfall.