Colombian farmers reach deal to end 11-day strike

BOGOTA Fri May 9, 2014 9:45pm EDT

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BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian farmers agreed on Friday to halt an 11-day strike that had threatened to damage President Juan Manuel Santos's re-election campaign with just over two weeks left before the election.

Farmer groups, who were protesting poor adherence to a deal reached after mass demonstrations last year, have agreed to end the strike in exchange for government help in reducing costs and increasing productivity, as well as what a statement described as a direct channel of communication between the farmers and officials.

"It's very important to be speaking directly with the farmers," said Interior Minister Aurelio Irragori. "This series of projects which they will analyze and approve will be presented by them, which means that their needs can be attended to efficiently."

Colombian producers of coffee, potatoes, rice, tomatoes and other crops called the strike on April 28, saying the government has failed to alleviate indebtedness and regulate prices for inputs such as fertilizer, among other measures that they say they were promised in August to end previous protests, which turned violent and led to food shortages and blocked roads.

The protests come at an awkward moment for Santos, who is seeking a second four-year term in elections on May 25, as the demonstrations turned the spotlight on a sector that some believe has been neglected by his administration.

The government has maintained that it is making progress, but that some reforms require long-term efforts.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta and Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Ken Wills)

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