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Desperate Greeks scuffle at free food handout

People reach out to take fruits and vegetables freely distributed by farmers during a protest against high production costs outside the Agriculture Ministry in Athens February 6, 2013. REUTERS/John Kolesidis

ATHENS: Hundreds of Greeks scuffled for free vegetables handed out by farmers on Wednesday, leaving one man trampled and injured and prompting an outcry over the growing desperation created by economic crisis.

Startling images of Greeks struggling to seize bags of tomatoes and leeks thrown from a truck dominated Greek television, triggering a bout of soul-searching over the new depths of poverty in the debt-laden country.

"These images make me angry. Angry for a proud people who have no food to eat, who can't afford to keep warm, who can't make ends meet," said Kostas Barkas, a lawmaker from the leftist Syriza party.

Other lawmakers from across the political spectrum decried the images "of people on the brink of despair" and the sense of "sadness for a proud people who have ended up like this".

Greeks have seen their living standards crumble as the country faces its sixth year of recession that has driven unemployment to record highs.

The country has been forced to push through painful wage and pension cuts demanded by its European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders as the price of bailout funds to avert bankruptcy.

The free food handout in Athens began peacefully as hundreds of Greeks lined up in advance outside the agriculture ministry, where farmers protesting high production costs laid out tables piled high with produce to be given away.

Tensions flared when the stalls ran out of produce and dozens of people - some carrying small children - rushed to a nearby truck and shoved each other out of the way in the competition for what was left.

One man was treated for injuries after being trampled when he fell to the ground in the commotion. A Reuters photographer at the scene was hit on the head with cauliflower heads.

The farmers said they gave away 50 tonnes of produce in under two hours.

Greeks lamented that income cuts and tax hikes had made the cost of living unbearable, forcing them to seek out free food.

"It's difficult. I never imagined that I would end up here," said Panagiota Petropoulos, 65, who struggles to get by on her 530-euro monthly pension while paying 300 euros in rent.

"I can't afford anything, not even at the fruit market. Everything is expensive, prices of everything are going up while our income is going down and there are no jobs."

 

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