Hundreds of trucks stranded on Greek-Bulgarian border

THESSALONIKI, Greece -- Hundreds of trucks and cars were stranded at two Greek-Bulgarian border crossings Wednesday, after a blockade by Greek farmers was met with a retaliatory blockade by angry truck drivers on the Bulgarian side.

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Greek authorities said there were 820 trucks, about 320 cars and six buses stranded on the Greek side of the main Promahonas-Kulata crossing. About 1,000 trucks and 500 cars were on the Bulgarian side, with the tailback extending for kilometres on either side.

Farmers have been blockading highways across Greece for weeks to protest a government-planned pension reform that critics say will increase social security contributions to unsustainable levels. While some blockades stop traffic for hours at a time, others do so round the clock.

Farmers had been allowing private cars and passenger buses to cross, and had been occasionally opening the border to truck traffic. But the Bulgarian truckers argue the Greek farmers had failed to uphold their side of an agreement to lift the blockade for several hours a day to allow commercial trucks to cross.

The Bulgarian drivers sealed off two border crossings to all traffic, saying the closure was indefinite and could be extended to the remaining four Greek-Bulgarian border crossings until the issue is solved. Only cars transporting sick people or small children were to be allowed to pass.

Greek authorities said about 40 trucks were stranded on the Greek side of the Kapitan Petko Voyvoda-Ormenio border crossing, the second to be shut by the Bulgarian truckers. Commercial truck drivers had been using that crossing as a detour to travel between Turkey and Greece after farmers blockaded a crossing on the Greek-Turkish border.

Tension has sometimes risen at some of the farmers' blockades around the country, with irate motorists stranded for hours or forced into lengthy detours on back roads.

The pension reform is part of government efforts to meet the conditions of Greece's third international bailout. But critics say some professions will be forced to pay two thirds of their declared income in social security contributions and taxes. The plan has attracted widespread opposition from a disparate group of professions, including lawyers, seamen, doctors, casino workers, engineers, dentists and artists.

Toshkov reported from Sofia, Bulgaria


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