Batzeli seeks to win over farmers

Agriculture Minister Katerina Batzeli yesterday indicated that the government would look into ways of boosting the incomes of farmers, who have been blocking key road junctions and border crossings for the past two weeks, as the representatives of 12 different protest groups sought to agree on a list of demands to present to Batzeli. According to sources, Batzeli said the government was considering channeling 1 billion euros of a 28-billion-euro rescue package set aside for banks last year to the country’s ailing agricultural sector. Batzeli, whose meetings with representatives of various farmers’ unions ran late into the night yesterday, also pledged a freeze for at least two years on the repayment of all loans taken out by farmers and refunds for tax paid on fuel. Prominent unionists did not appear to have been convinced. «We will not leave the table of talks until a solution is found, even if this means us staying at the ministry all night,» said Vaios Ganis, a spokesperson for farmers in the prefecture of Fthiotida, central Greece. «We have studied the proposals made by the ministry and there are certain gaps,» he added. The representatives of the 12 groups of farmers behind a network of blockades at key road junctions and border crossings in Macedonia and Thessaly are today to meet at Promachonas, the main border crossing with Bulgaria, for talks aimed at drafting a list of common demands. The farmers intend to meet with Batzeli later in the day and discuss these demands with her.

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