Protesting Greek farmers meet PM after month of blockades

ATHENS, Greece – Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and representatives of some protesting farmers failed on Monday to find an immediate solution to a month-long blockade of the country’s highways.

Farmers are protesting pension reforms planned by Tsipras’ left-led coalition government as part of commitments to international bailout lenders. They have been blocking roads and highways across the country, including at several of Greece’s northern border crossings, notably with Bulgaria and Turkey.

After the meeting, farmers said they would take Tsipras’ proposals to protesters who have parked tractors across several main highways. They did not say what the proposals were, nor provide a timeframe for discussing the proposals. The group which met Tsipras also does not represent all the protesting farmers.

Only one of the four major protesting farmers’ groups agreed to attend Monday’s talks, with other groups insisting on their demands that the pension reform be repealed.

“We will go back to the blockades to decide the further course of our struggle,” farmer Vangellis Papagiannoulis said.

It was unlikely that Tsipras would bend much on his reform plans.

“I don’t think we can carve out a policy for the productive restructuring of the country without taking your positions seriously into account. At the same time your positions and proposals have to take into account the broader problem of the country, the fiscal conditions and framework we have to work in,” Tsipras said at the start of the meeting.

The blockades have forced motorists into lengthy detours on rural back roads, while the border crossing closures have triggered a spat with neighbouring European Union member Bulgaria, which is seeking EU intervention to end long delays for truckers. Hundreds of trucks were stuck on highways leading to Greece’s major border crossings.

Tsipras is struggling to push through the cost-cutting reforms after opposition parties said they would not back the pension system overhaul, leaving him reliant on pro-government lawmakers who have a majority of just three seats in the 300-member parliament.