Bulgarian farmers block border with Romania in protest

Bulgarian farmers rallied across the country to press government to cut cheap agricultural imports and pay subsidies.

Bulgarian farmers block border with Romania in protest

Bulgarian farmers blocked a major border crossing with Romania and rallied across the country on Wednesday to press government to cut cheap agricultural imports and pay subsidies.

The milk and meat producers' protest is the latest expression of discontent in the poorest European Union member, raising pressure on the Socialist-led government to act to shore up the economy against the global slowdown.

"There are lots of bankruptcies. Many people are on the edge and are forced to slaughter or sell their animals," said Andrian Tsakonski, chairman of the national milk producers association.

Farmers, hit by a fall in agricultural prices, are demanding the government set a minimum protective price for milk and stop imports of cheap substitutes, such as powdered milk.

They also want immediate payment of subsidies for animals and milk for 2009, as well as pasture subsidies for 2008.

Inspired by protests in neighbouring Greece, 300 Bulgarian farmers shut the sole Danube bridge link with Romania at Ruse, about 320 km (200 miles) northeast of Sofia, organisers said.

Another 250 farmers prepared to block the ferry link at the Danube border town of Oriahovo. Some held a banner reading "Bulgarian cheese from Bulgarian milk".

Producers also rallied in the northwestern border town of Vidin as well as the southern town of Stara Zagora.

But the protests have so far failed to attract large numbers and do not threaten the coalition government for now as it has an overwhelming majority in parliament, observers say.

In Greece, farmers demanding compensation for low prices continue to block the Bulgarian border and clashed with police near Athens for a second day on Tuesday. [nL3833844]

Demonstrators have protested against the impact of the global financial crisis in several European countries, including Latvia, Lithuania, Iceland and Russia.

Last month, a peaceful anti-government demonstration in the Bulgarian capital Sofia turned into a riot.

The economic crisis is likely to erase Bulgaria's gains over the past decade because its main export market, the European Union, has fallen into recession. Trade unions say some 50,000 people are likely to lose their jobs this year.

Bulgaria's farming industry, once a main stay of the economy, has shrunk to 5 percent of GDP from 25 percent in the past decade. Cash-strapped producers suffered again last year after the EU froze millions in farm aid over graft.

Agriculture Minister Valeri Tsvetanov said this week the government would try to pay 2009 subsidies in advance.

To appease voters ahead of this summer's parliamentary election, the coalition government has promised to raise pensions, public sector wages and investment in road construction and public building repairs to create more jobs.

Reuters
Last Mod: 04 Şubat 2009, 15:24
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