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Poland Calls Out Troops to Open Highway Blocked by Farmers

June 16, 1990

WISNIEWO, Poland (AP) _ The Solidarity-led government Friday sent police with clubs and tear gas to open a highway blocked by farmers angry about a drop in milk prices.

The farmers left in the face of the show of force, agreeing to suspend their protest at least until discussions with Solidarity Chairman Lech Walesa. He was expected to arrive Saturday.

Protesters moved aside tractors blocking the two-lane highway at Wisniewo, a rural community 80 miles northwest of Warsaw. The highway is the main road between Warsaw and the northern port of Gdansk.

The blockade of highway E-7 began late Tuesday after farmers learned the local dairy cooperative was reducing the price it would pay for milk to 2 cents a quart.

Walesa was caught in their blockade Thursday when he was being driven from his home in Gdansk to Warsaw for a flight to a meeting of the International Labor Organization in Switzerland.

The labor leader told the farmers their dispute was local, but he said it was ″justified.″ He pledged to come back to help them resolve it if necessary.

The government stuck to its vow not to make special concessions that would deviate from the economic reform program designed to transform the socialist economy into a market-driven system.

It refused to bargain with railway workers during their strike in May, but Walesa negotiated a return to work that was followed by a pay increase.

Because the road blocked by the farmers is considered an international highway, the government announced Friday that it was obliged under agreements with other countries to keep it open. It told the farmers that it would resort to force if necessary.

Traffic was being diverted to other highways and several columns of police vehicles, carrying officers armed with truncheons and tear gas, arrived in Wisniewo at dusk. Some officers were in armored vehicles, and some came with water cannons.

″It will be a second Romania,″ some townspeople called out when three helicopters suddenly appeared over their village. It was a reference to the bloody Romanian revolution in December.

Hundreds of local residents sympathetic to the farmers milled around the streets late Friday.

However, the police vehicles parked along the side of the road, and there was no confrontation.

Andrzej Wojtkowski, a local resident, said farmers had been complaining for months but only got the attention of authorities when they blocked the road.

″It’s not a local problem. It is a problem for the government,″ he said.

He said the local dairy would not be in such trouble if not for the high interest rates imposed by the government in January to combat inflation.

According to Wojtkowski, the dairy has reduced the price it will pay for milk by more than half since April, and farmers have no other potential buyer in the area.

Farmers on Friday donated their milk free to hospitals and apartment buildings but refused to sell it to the dairy.

Update hourly