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Polish Farmers Suspend Roadblocks

February 4, 1999

WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ Talks between striking farmers and the Polish government resumed Thursday after the farmers, who are demanding price increases for their products, suspended dozens of roadblocks.

``There are no roadblocks, so we are starting talks. And talks lead to solving problems,″ Labor Minister Longin Komolowski said.

By Thursday afternoon, the farmers, who continue to struggle in the wake of Poland’s transition from communism to a market economy, dismantled all of about 90 remaining blockades of farm equipment and bales of hay. At their peak, the roadblocks on Wednesday affected 66 highways and 400 smaller roads.

The change came soon after the interior minister ordered police to make sure that roads are not blocked.

Andrzej Lepper, the farmers union leader and the engine behind the protests, said twice as many roadblocks would go up if talks failed to show progress by the end of the day.

But the labor minister said talks may be lengthy because Poland’s agriculture woes are ``complicated.″

Details of the talks, held at the parliament building, were not immediately available.

Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski said discussions focused on government proposals to improve the plight of farmers and concerned prices, credits and subsidizing exports as well as broad reforms in agriculture.

Earlier, the agriculture ministry had promised to introduce stricter controls on food imports and to stimulate exports to Russia, where the market has collapsed along with the economy.

The government also agreed to buy pork at higher prices, apparently meeting a key demand, but farmers said the purchase price was too low.

Talks between farmers and government ministers broke down Tuesday night, when the government demanded as a condition for resumed meetings an end to blockades.

Despite broad economic reforms intended to complete the shift from a communist-era economy to a market system, Polish agriculture remains hobbled by small, poorly equipped farms unable to compete with more modern farms in Western Europe.

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