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Anti-austerity farmers in Greece pelt police with produce

Greek farmers protested under a cloud of police tear gas in Athens as part of mass demonstrations against pension cuts demanded by the country's international creditors. Farmers have pelted riot police with tomatoes.

Thousands of farmers have begun two days of anti-austerity protests in Athens. Throwing tomatoes and the occasional rock, the farmers clashed with riot police. About 2,000 farmers from the island of Crete gathered in front of the Agriculture Ministry after arriving on ferries, breaking windows and setting garbage ablaze.

"The first floor of the building sustained damage," said Agriculture Minister Evangelos Apostolou, of the Syriza party, which won power in 2015 after pledging to fight creditors' demands, but quickly capitulated. "It is fortunate that no staff were hurt."

Police also confronted farmers who tried to break through barriers into the city center from a western suburb with their tractors. Another large group from the north plans to camp on central Syntagma Square, opposite parliament, until Sunday.

'They fooled us'

Greece's government

plans to increase social security contributions as part of an austerity plan that will raise costs and decrease services nationwide.

The government has banned the farmers from using tractors in the demonstration, but a deal was reached to allow a symbolic procession of 17 of the vehicles in the capital.

Since mid-January,

farmers have used their tractors

to block dozens of highways.

Earlier this month the farmers began blockading border crossings to Bulgaria and Turkey. But, following an appeal from Bulgaria on Tuesday, they allowed trucks to pass for several hours a day at one crossing. The farmers threatened to further escalate the protest by blocking air- and seaports at the weekend.

"They fooled us," Manolis Paterakis, head of one of Crete's farmer blockades, said about the government. "They were telling us that they support us, that they are fighting for the survival of the farmers ... that young people need to return to their villages and work their land." Now, "the same people come and confirm the exact opposite: Whoever farms today, the only thing they will achieve is to have debts to the tax office," he said.

Watch video 00:39

Greek farmers protest austerity measures in Athens

Police have arrested four people. Nikos Toskas, the junior interior minister for police, said 10 police officers had sustained injuries, two of whom required hospitalization.

Austerity plans

Germany largely led austerity negotiations

last year, when the European Union and International Monetary Fund, Greece's primary creditors, insisted on cuts as a condition for new loans to help the country pay back its existing debt.

Protests against the internationally demanded austerity plan have united a disparate group of professions, including lawyers, artists, accountants, engineers, doctors, dentists and casino workers. The varied coalition has also rejected plans to double farmers' income tax by 2017 and scrap benefits such as subsidized fuel.

Former Syriza member and internationally renowned economist Yanis Varoufakis has launched

a new Europe-wide anti-austerity party.

mkg/jm (AFP, AP)

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