Angry farmers from Crete drive tractors to Greek parliament

More than 1,000 farmers arrived in Athens with their tractors from the southern Mediterranean island of Crete on Monday, ready to take their protest against low commodity prices to the Greek parliament.

The farmers, arriving on three vessels from Crete, reportedly scuffled with riot police at the port of Pireaus who prevented them from off-loading their tractors. The farmers said they are determined to ride their tractors into the centre of Athens towards the Ministry of Development, reported dpa.

Riot police reportedly tried to drive the farmers back onto the ships with tear gas.

Over the weekend, protesting farmers retreated from most of the roadblocks which they had set up for nearly two weeks in central Greece, but they maintained blockades at the border with Bulgaria, resulting in long traffic jams in both directions.

In the past week and a half, thousands of farmers used their tractors to create more than 70 roadblocks along all the main highways across Greece. They lifted many of the roadblocks after accepting a 500-million-euro emergency aid package by the government which has yet to be approved by Brussels.

Hundreds of farmers continued to block the Promachonas border crossing after roadblocks were lifted briefly in the past few days to allow trucks with perishable goods to cross the border with Bulgaria.

The main highway connecting the capital Athens with Greece's second-largest city of Thessaloniki remained closed at the junction of Nikaia.

The farmers are demanding tax rebates and subsidies from the government in the wake of falling prices for their goods and sinking EU subsidies. They estimated that their income levels had declined by 25 per cent in the past 10 years.

The conservative government has offered an aid package and has said the current financial crisis leaves it no room to offer more.

Greek businesses said the strike, which followed quickly in the wake of riots, cost millions in lost revenue.

The government of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has taken a beating in the past few months as public discontent over low wages and rising unemployment triggered riots in December.

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