'WIthout Us, You Don’t Eat': Greek Farmers Drive Tractors To Parliament To Demand Financial Help

Greek farmers protest in front of the Greek parliament in Athens, Greece, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. Greek farmers rode Tuesday some 200 tractors to the capital, Athens, demanding financial help from the government as cost of living spiked in the Mediterranean country. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Greek farmers protest in front of the Greek parliament in Athens, Greece, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. Greek farmers rode Tuesday some 200 tractors to the capital, Athens, demanding financial help from the government as cost of living spiked in the Mediterranean country. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
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ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Scores of bright-colored tractors were parked outside Greece's parliament Tuesday, horns blaring, as thousands of farmers angry at high production costs shifted their protests to Athens.

“Without us, you don’t eat," one banner said. Some farmers carried mock coffins and funeral garlands as symbols of their plight.

The farmers — whose demands are similar to those at farmer protests elsewhere in Europe — have spent weeks staging sporadic blockades along highways and in rural towns. Farmers in central Greece are also still reeling from major floods last year.

The center-right government has expressed sympathy with the farmers but said budgetary constraints prevent it from meeting all their demands, beyond substantial electricity cost reductions.

Protesters say that's not enough. They want tax-free fuel, debt forgiveness, measures against foreign competition and speedier compensation for damage from natural disasters. Farmers also criticize the substantial markup in shelf prices compared to what wholesalers pay them for their produce.

Manolis Liakis, a farmer from the southern island of Crete, singled out fuel costs. He said farmers pay more than three times as much for petrol as shipping companies due to tax disparities.

"We can’t be producing and (selling) our products for ridiculously low prices while the consumer buys them at extremely high prices,” he said.

The rally ended peacefully. Some farmers planned to stay outside parliament all night and leave with their tractors Wednesday.

In a show of solidarity, hundreds of students joined the farmers and protested government plans to end the state monopoly on university education.

The government took back a previous threat to block Tuesday’s protest. Police were deployed to help divert highway traffic, and much of central Athens was blocked to motorists and public transport.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in a television interview Monday said he could not support additional tax breaks and concessions but wanted to continue discussions with protesters.