International

Greek farmer protests, Greek farmer border blockades, Bulgarian truck drivers
Thanassis Stavrakis/AP
A farmer hits a riot policeman with his crook at the main port of Piraeus, near Athens, on
Monday, Feb. 2,
2009. (AP)

More Protests for Greece as Farmers Continue Blockade

February 03, 2009 02:55 PM
by Emily Coakley
Greek farmers demanding more aid from the government are the latest to protest in the European nation, as the ruling party’s popularity slides.

Farmers Blocked Border Crossings, Roads

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Nearly two weeks ago, Greek farmers, protesting for more government help, began blocking traffic at international borders and across the country.

Traffic on both sides of the border crossings have been backed up for miles, while truck drivers literally camped out on the Bulgaria side. The Red Cross distributed food, and portable toilets were put up, the Sofia Echo reported.

The farmers’ protests have hurt the truck drivers, and the Bulgarian government has accused the Greek government of breaking European Union rules by prohibiting “the free movement of goods and persons,” according to the Echo.

Bulgaria relies heavily on goods from Greece and its ports: more than half of the country’s truck imports come from its southern neighbor, the Sofia News Agency reported Monday. And two-thirds of the goods Bulgarian trucks take to other EU states come from Greece.

After the Greek government agreed to an aid package, many of the blockades disappeared. But one of the crossings into Bulgaria is still blocked, and farmers from Crete, dissatisfied with the government’s plans, are still protesting.

On Monday hundreds of farmers, some with tractors, traveled from Crete to Piraeus, the nation’s largest port, with the intention of marching into Athens. Riot police responded Monday and kept the protestors at the port. More farmers arrived Tuesday, and police have used tear gas to try to stop them. Though the protestors finally decided to leave the port, they have vowed to continue to rally in Crete.

Meanwhile, some have questioned whether the aid package the Greek government has pledged is even legal, according to EU rules. The EU Observer reports that the Greek farming minister, Sotiris Hatzigakis, “has said that in his opinion, the aid does not violate EU rules, as it will consist of a compensation scheme and not subsidies.” Hatzigakis went to the EU home in Brussels this week to discuss the plans.

Background: Civil unrest in Greece

These protests are widely seen as another blow for the ruling conservative government, which holds a one-seat majority in parliament.

For the last two months, Greece has been beset by riots. First, a police shooting in Athens started anarchists rioting around the country, and then the farmers took over.

And rioters are hardly the only ones dissatisfied with the government. Recent polls suggest the Greek public favors the main opposition party, known as PASOK, over the current government, which is led by the New Democracy party.

The public also, for the most part, supports the farmers’ requests, if not their methods, the opinion poll suggested. According to the Athens News Agency, “77.8 percent of those asked considered that farmers’ demands were reasonable—as opposed to 12.9 percent that considered them unreasonable—but 65.3 percent believed that neither farmers nor any other group of individuals had a right to close roads.”

It’s not clear when Greece will hold national elections, though a Macedonia news outlet called Makfax vesnik, citing the Greek newspaper Ethnos, reported Tuesday that an unnamed government official said elections will be held on March 22.

Opinion: Protests unbecoming of Greece

An editorial in the newspaper Kathimerini said the violent protests by farmers and other groups “effectively suspended state functions by holding them hostage.” These protests, the newspaper said, are signs “that we are experiencing a serious erosion in what is acceptable behavior as well as projecting an image that is not at all in keeping with that of a developed nation.”

Reference: Greek geography

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