By Lefteris Papadimas
ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek farmers clashed with police in central Athens on Wednesday when a protest against tax and pension reforms mandated by the country’s multi-billion-euro bailout turned violent.
Waving shepherds crooks, about 1,300 farmers who had arrived in Athens from the island of Crete overnight headed to the agriculture ministry, which was sealed off by police buses.
Tempers flared after reports spread among the assembled crowd that officials had refused to see a delegation from the farmers, witnesses said.
A number of farmers charged the building and smashed windows of two parked police buses, with police responding by using tear gas, dispersing crowds into sidestreets.
At one point some police were cornered by men who pounded their riot shields repeatedly with sticks.
Riot police remained at the scene, with some demonstrators occasionally appearing to hurl stones at them. One demonstrator punched a hole in a police bus window, placing a large blue-and-white Greek flag in it.
Shops in the area, a commercial district in downtown Athens, were shuttered.
Farmers have been engaged in a long-running feud with Greek authorities over social security laws introduced in mid-2016 which force them to pay on imputed earnings upfront, and higher pension contributions.
While most Greeks bore the impact of the adjustment, it hit farmers particularly hard since many previously did not make pension contributions.
“The state is taking 75 percent of my income … we all need meds to endure this,” said Manolis Bobodakis, 42.
Greece is now engaged in discussions with creditors on additional economic reforms required to meet bailout obligations.
The crisis-hit country signed up to a new credit lifeline worth 86 billion euros in mid-2015, its third since 2010.
Farmers have also been hit by high production costs triggered by the removal of tax breaks on items such as fuel and fertilizer, coupled with low prices.
“It’s killing us,” said Panagiotis Koutsomikos, 47, a beekeeper.
(Writing By Michele Kambas; Editing by Toby Chopra)