Angry Latvian farmers take their tractors to the streets

Other News Materials 3 February 2009 16:28 (UTC +04:00)

Sub-zero temperatures and icy roads proved to be only small obstacles to Latvian farmers Tuesday as they descended on the capital, Riga, from all across the Baltic state to demand financial support from the embattled government.

By mid-morning, around 100 protestors had set up a picket outside the agriculture ministry with their tractors and trailers parked in surrounding streets. In short order they lit a bonfire, distributed hot drinks and pastries and set about blasting their horns at the building periodically, reported dpa.

The mood was good-natured, but protestors insisted the farming industry needed much more support than government was offering and called on Agriculture Minister Martins Roze to resign.

Protestor Inese from Braslava in the heart of northern Latvia's farming country told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa farmers were completely united.

"We have brought more than 20 tractors here today. People are struggling with credit payments and dairy farmers are in particular trouble. We left early this morning when it was still dark, and I must say the police have been excellent in their attitude," she said.

Along the way, farmers received plenty of support from motorists, she added.

Ieva from Limbazi told dpa: "It's difficult right now for farmers who have taken out big credit, especially when the milk price is so low."

But the protest was about more than just the agricultural sector, she said. "This is about the Latvian people. We are a little nation but we can do big things if we stick together," she said.

"People are getting deeper and deeper in difficulties, so this is one step to try and fight back," she said.

Around midday, scores more tractors from across the country began to assemble for a go-slow on Riga's ring road, causing long tailbacks in several places.

Splinter groups started to head towards central Riga in mid- afternoon despite the fact that farm machinery is not allowed in the heart of the city.

A meeting of the Latvian government Tuesday agreed to provide 22 million lats (40 million dollars) of aid to farmers, less than the 27 million lats (50 million dollars) demanded by farmers' leaders.

Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis said dairy farmers warranted the aid because they represent a special case.

"The dairy sector is different from others because a cow cannot be temporarily switched off, shut down or suspended waiting for a better market situation," he said. dpa mc bve