Farmer protests escalate

01/18/2010
Travel in central and northern Greece continued to be beset by obstacles on Sunday, with drivers needing an average of six hours to make the journey between Athens and Lamia due to tractor blockades set up along the main north-south highway.

At one point, farmers also blocked the old national road to Lamia and smaller roads, forcing drivers onto the single remaining road between Lamia and Thiva, where they could rejoin the national highway, going via Amfissa, the mountain village of Arachova and Livadia.

Having negotiated the difficult roads and weather conditions along this route, motorists were then faced with yet more delays and obstacles between Amfissa and Lamia, where they were once again forced off the main route onto minor country roads and had to go through the centre of Lamia in order to get onto the highway once again.

The same problems in reverse faced drivers heading south toward Athens, since tractors had blocked three key junctions and ruled out all possible alternative routes in between.

In the north, meanwhile, farmers continued tractor blockades at two points along the Egnatia highway, at the Kerdyllia intersection in Serres and at the Chrysoupolis intersection in Kavala, except for a brief interval when they opened the road between Thessaloniki and Kavala so that fans could attend a soccer match between the Olympiakos Piraeus and local Kavala football clubs.

The Egnatia highway spans northern Greece from the port of Igoumenitsa in the west to the extreme northeastern border with Turkey.

Tractors were also continuing to gather at Strymonikos in Serres and at Triglia in Halkidiki but without disrupting traffic.

Further south, in the prefecture of Larissa, tractors were gathering at Nikaia and at Farsala but again without obstructing the movement of vehicles.

Not so lucky were those using the Vogatsikos intersection near Kastoria, where farmers were setting up intermittent tractor blockades at half-hour intervals.

In areas where the highway was blocked, cars were diverted onto the older road network to get around the closed intersections.

Meanwhile, farmers in Grevena have decided to join in the fray and began mobilisations by gathering in front of the prefecture building on Sunday. They are due to hold a further meeting on Monday morning to decide whether they will blockade the Egnatia highway intersection near Grevena.

The farmer protests also figured high in Bulgarian news headlines, after the Bulgarian transport and interior ministries warned Bulgarians to avoid travelling by road to Greece for the next 10 days in case border crossings between the two countries were closed during farmer protests.

Farmers in Fthiotida, to the south, are now trawling for reinforcements in the villages and expect to have additional forces for the Alamana blockade by Wednesday. They appear unconvinced by the assurances given by the government and appear determined to keep up the blockades.

They claim that they have not received sums that were promised them and now face outstanding debts to banks and land rents.

Among those visiting the blockades were MPs like former agriculture minister Sotiris Hatzigakis and current Citizens’ Protection Minister Mihalis Chrysohoidis, who spoke with farmers at length about production costs and the gap in the price paid to farmers for their produce and that paid by consumers. The minister promised measures that would benefit markets and consumers.

Deputy Finance Minister Philippos Sahinidis stressed during a visit to the farmer blockade in Alamana that the critical state of the economy left no room for any further cash support, stressing that he had personally signed for farming subsidies just before Christmas.

Farmers countered by saying that this was money that was “theirs” and should have been paid to them and stressed that the numbers cited as agricultural benefits in the media were inflated and that such sums had never reached them.

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