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Polish Farmers Talk With Gov’t

February 2, 1999

WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ Farmers demanding higher prices for their products held talks with the Polish government Tuesday after a 9-day-old protest blocked traffic across the country.

The government had refused to hold direct talks as long as the illegal blockades continued, but a report that they had all been lifted on main roads enabled the face-to-face session began.

The talks, which include Labor Minister Longin Komolowski and Agriculture Minister Jacek Janiszewski, continued for several hours.

Later, police said farmers were continuing to protest in at least 57 places along main roads.

During a break, Komolowski warned the government will stop talking to the farmers if road blocks continued, provoking a defiant response from farm leader Andrzej Lepper.

``The blockades have been there and will be there,″ said Lepper.

After those sharp words, the talks failed to resume _ and it was not immediately clear if they would continue Tuesday.

Besides higher prices for their products, Lepper, a leader of the Self-Defense union, demanded farmers’ debts be wiped clean and the government promise it won’t punish protesters.

Apparently meeting a key demand, the government began buying pork on Monday. It plans to buy as much as 50,000 tons of pork until mid-March, but the farmers argue the price is still too low.

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.

Calls for farm reform ahead of Poland’s bid to join the European Union have been resisted by farmers, who are afraid of losing control of their land.

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