Farmers’ tenacity fuels tensions

Farmers yesterday pressed on with their third week of road and border blocks, causing further trade and transport chaos, and prompting Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov to telephone European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to demand a solution. Hundreds of farmers kept their tractors parked at key road junctions in central and northern Greece. A new blockade set up on the road leading to Thessaloniki’s international airport caused problems for travelers who were obliged to drag their suitcases past parked tractors. Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Katerina Batzeli, whose successive attempts at negotiation with the farmers have failed to yield a compromise, was forced to take a detour via secondary roads to arrive in Thessaloniki on time to deliver the keynote speech for the annual Agrotica farming exhibition. Earlier in the day, sources had indicated that farmers were planning to stage a protest outside the venue where the exhibition is being held but there had been no reports of unrest by late yesterday. A spokesperson for one of the roadblocks in northern Greece, Yiannis Voyiatzis, said that farmers had invited Batzeli to meet them at the blockade and discuss their problems but that she had declined. «She prefers to turn her back on us and bypass the blockades,» Voyiatzis said. Meanwhile, after a difficult night at the Promachonas border crossing with Bulgaria – where a farmers’ blockade created lines of trucks stretching to 20 kilometers in each direction – Borisov decided to seek EC intervention. Two weeks ago, the premier had met with protesting Greek farmers on Bulgarian soil, seeking explanations for the ongoing action. This time Borisov asked Barroso to help solve the deadlock which has resulted in massive losses in trade revenue. Batzeli and Prime Minister George Papandreou have both insisted that austerity measures dictated by the European Commission leave them no scope for handouts to farmers.

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