Thousands of Czech and other European farmers protested in Prague on Thursday to demand higher milk prices and subsidies to boost incomes hit by the global economic crisis.
Farmers from Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia and Poland marched through the Czech capital to raise pressure on European policy-makers to provide more help.
The Czech Republic holds the EU's rotating presidency.
The crowd, estimated at nearly 8,000 by the Czech Agriculture Chamber, carried banners with slogans such as "We want to raise cows, not listen to steers" and "Are we lower than Latvia?", referring to Riga's IMF/EU bailout.
The protesters dumped milk and manure at the Agriculture Ministry.
The chamber said milk prices were at their lowest since the Czechs joined the EU in 2004, and put small farms at risk.
Farmers said they wanted 40 euro cents as a minimum price for a litre of milk, double the 20 cent market price. They asked for direct subsidies to dairy farmers or more buyouts from the EU, which the bloc can do to raise demand and keep up prices.
"We are losing terrible amounts of money. Soon there won't be enough to pay wages. We'll have to slaughter cows, and that is the end," said Josef Rousek, 49, a dairy farmer from the eastern Bohemian town of Bohuslavice nad Metuji.
Protesters also dumped milk and grain outside a hotel where European Farm Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel met Czech Farm Minister Petr Gandalovic. Boel met representatives of the farmers and promised further talks in Brussels next month.
The protest echoed a similar demonstration in the Bulgarian capital Sofia on Wednesday, and protests in Greece and Latvia, where demonstrations by people hit by the economic crisis preceded the fall of the government.
The Czechs have seen few public protests this decade as the economy grew rapidly to catch up with richer western Europe. But the economic crisis has begun to raise unemployment and public dissatisfaction. Workers from the metallurgic union, the country's biggest, have announced a protest for May.
The farmers demanded an immediate hike in EU subsidies, the so-called 'direct payments' which will be lower for east European producers than for those in the West until 2013.
National governments have been topping up the payments to make up for some of the difference.
"We want equal conditions by 2010," Czech Agrarian Chamber chief Jan Veleba told the rally. "We demand immediate and effective steps to save dairy cows."
The Czech government has pledged 2.6 billion crowns ($122.9 million) to help farmers with loan guarantees and other steps.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 12 Mart 2009, 16:45