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Farmers from the island of Crete clash with riot police during a demonstration outside the Agriculture Ministry in Athens, Greece March 8, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek farmers clashed with police in central Athens on Wednesday when a protest against tax and pension reforms mandated by the country's multi-billion-euro bailout turned violent.

About 1,300 farmers who had arrived in Athens from the island of Crete overnight headed to the agriculture ministry, which was sealed off by police buses.

Tempers flared after reports spread among the assembled crowd that officials had refused to see a delegation from the farmers, witnesses said.

A number of farmers, some holding shepherds staffs, charged the building and smashed windows of two parked police buses, with police responding by using tear gas, dispersing demonstrators into sidestreets.

Riot police remained at the scene, with some demonstrators occasionally appearing to hurl stones at them. One demonstrator punched a hole in a police bus window, placing a large blue-and-white Greek flag in it. Shops in the area, a commercial district in downtown Athens, were shuttered.

Farmers have been engaged in a long-running feud with Greek authorities over social security laws introduced in mid-2016 which force them to pay on imputed earnings upfront, and higher pension contributions.

Greece is now engaged in discussions with creditors on additional economic reforms required to meet bailout obligations.

The crisis-hit country signed up to a new credit lifeline worth 86 billion euros in mid-2015, its third since 2010.

(Writing By Michele Kambas; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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