Associated Press

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) -- Grain producers who want higher state subsidies staged a tractor blockade in the center of the Bulgarian capital on Tuesday, tangling downtown traffic.

Some 170 tractors were parked at the square between Parliament and the landmark Alexander Nevski cathedral, as protesters left their vehicles and marched through pouring rain to the government headquarters.

Farmers have been deploying their heavy agricultural equipment on major highways and border crossings for a week.

They are pressuring the government to keep subsidies for next year at the level agreed to ahead of the October presidential and local elections.

Demonstrators called on Prime Minister Boiko Borisov to stick to his government's promises.

"We want the finance minister and the agriculture minister to quit, because they have not fulfilled their commitments," said Angel Vukodinov, chairman of the National Association of Grain Growers.

Farmers insist on earlier government commitments according to which they would receive ¤290 million ($385 million) in subsidies for 2012. The government has slashed the amount to ¤174 million (231 million).

Fearing that the recession in the euro zone could affect Bulgaria's slowing economy, the government has made it clear it is not bowing to pressure and will not revise cuts, which are part of an austerity state budget pending parliament approval.

The protests are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, but farmers said they were ready to stay in the capital until an agreement with the government is reached.

The Balkan country of 7.3 million, the poorest member of the European Union, has been swept up by protests in the last weeks. Thousands of workers rallied in Sofia over planned pension reforms and a strike by railway workers against layoffs is going into its third week.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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