Violent clashes have erupted between Greek farmers and riot police during a massive protest rally in the Greek capital, Athens, over government austerity measures.
More than 1,000 angry farmers clashed with Greek police in a protest gathering outside the Ministry of Agriculture in central Athens on Wednesday against the government’s plans to impose new tax hikes and reform the pension system.
Violence broke out as farmer protesters from Crete, Greece’s biggest island, scuffled with police, who had been deployed to guard the ministry. Riot police used tear gas and batons to repel the protesters, who were smashing windows with shepherd crooks and inflicting damage on parked police buses.
The farmers were angry at government-imposed increases in taxes and pension contributions in the midst of low produce prices and high production costs.
At least one person was detained during the clashes.
“They must change the tax and pension reforms, in order to give incentives to the sector so we can work. [But] they don’t want us to work, they want to kill us off, they want to take us out of Europe,” a protester said.
“In one word, it’s a catastrophe, we cannot produce anything, the production costs are ridiculously high, we cannot produce products that will be competitive on the market and that the consumer can buy,” said another.
The Wednesday rally was the second protest in a month by farmers, coming after several other anti-austerity demonstrations by labor groups in Greece, which is attempting to resume stalled talks with its international creditors over the next set of reforms to be implemented in the country.
Nearly seven years of austerity has culminated in a spike in poverty levels in Greece. The southeastern European country also has the highest unemployment rate — 23 percent — in the European Union (EU).
Authorities in Greece have severely reduced government spending, frozen hiring, and slashed wages to keep receiving the rescue loans to shore up Greece’s ailing economy.