Greek farmers stage tractor protest against soaring energy costs

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LARISSA, Greece, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Farmers in central Greece on Friday protested with hundreds of tractors against soaring energy costs, dismissing government support measures as inadequate and demanding more help to cope with rising prices.

The farmers parked tractors on a national highway near the town of Larissa in central Greece, where they faced off with police.

Kostas Tzelas, head of the Karditsa agricultural association, said the rising prices for fuel and electricity had increased production costs by 50%.

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"They don't solve the basic problems that we have to maintain our farms and villages," Tzelas said. "We ask for substantial measures that will give a real solution to our problems."

Greece has spent about 1.7 billion euros ($1.95 billion) subsidising power bills for farmers, households and businesses to help them with rising energy prices.

High energy costs have been the main driver of inflation, which accelerated to 5.1% in December, the highest in the country in 11 years. read more

Tzelas, speaking at the rally outside Larissa, the largest city of Greece's central agricultural heartland, said: "That is why we are out on the streets, the countryside will become deserted, villages will be deserted, people will not be able to cultivate and we will no longer be able to live in our villages."

Earlier on Friday, the government unveiled an additional 170 million euros in financial aid for the agriculture sector.

Agriculture Minister Spilios Livanos said in a televised statement that despite its tight finances, Greece had offered a 1 billion euros aid to farmers last year.

"At this difficult point of multiple major outside crises, we're standing by our producers," he said.

The package includes subsidies to cover 80% of the additional costs farmers face on their power bills from August up to December and half of this cost for January and February.

A sales tax on fertilisers will be cut by 46% to 13%.

Farmers, who said the latest measures are not enough, have staged several protests in the past over social security laws and pension contributions.

The farm sector accounts for a small part of Greece's output, but it employs hundreds of thousands of people, most of them seasonal workers.

($1 = 0.8723 euros)

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Writing by Angeliki Koutantou. Editing by Jane Merriman

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