February 9, 2016 / 1:16 PM / in 2 years

Angry Bulgarian drivers smash through Greek border blockade

SOFIA/ATHENS (Reuters) - Four Bulgarian truck drivers smashed through barriers set up by Greek truckers along the countries’ shared border on Tuesday, saying they were fed up with Greek protesters barricading roads over a planned revamp of their country’s pension system.

Greek farmers have been sporadically blocking roads into Bulgaria and motorways across Greece for about three weeks, incensed by pension reforms that will triple their social security contributions over the next four years.

The move is part of a wider overhaul to save Greece’s struggling pension system 1.8 billion euros ($2 billion) this year, and a key condition of the 86 billion-euro bailout that Athens signed with international backers last year.

Yannis Tourtouras, head of the farmers’ committee at the main Greece-Bulgaria border crossing, said the Promahonas crossing had been open for only 30 minutes in the last 48 hours, causing a tailback of trucks at least 15 kilometers (9 miles)long.

“Yesterday was a difficult night for us, 4-5 trucks tried to break the blockade,” he said. “They were driving like crazy, the police tried to stop them with their guns.”

One of the drivers that broke the blockade told Bulgarian Nova TV, “it was a spontaneous decision ... I was the third truck in the blockade for a second day.”

Bulgarian police officials issued tickets to the drivers who broke the blockade, but they were hailed by colleagues in Bulgaria, who organized a counter-blockade on the Bulgarian side of the border stopping trucks, cars and busses.

Bulgaria has urged Athens to provide a transit corridor for trucks and complained to Brussels that Greece is preventing the free travel of people and goods.

“We have sent a letter to the European Commission and it will launch a procedure against Greece over non-implementation of the EU legislation,” Bulgarian Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov said on Tuesday. “It is possible that Greece may be fined.”

Reporting by Angel Krasimirov and Tsvetelia Tsolova, additional reporting by Lefteris Papadimas and Angeliki Koutantou; editing by Katharine Houreld

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