French farmers plan 'siege' of Paris demanding better working conditions

They plan to step up their pressure campaign by establishing eight chokepoints along the major arteries to Paris on Monday afternoon

By AFP

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Tractors and other vehicles queue on the A16 highway as French farmers try to reach Paris during a protest over price pressures, taxes and green regulation, grievances shared by farmers across Europe, in Beauvais, France, on Monday. — Reuters
Tractors and other vehicles queue on the A16 highway as French farmers try to reach Paris during a protest over price pressures, taxes and green regulation, grievances shared by farmers across Europe, in Beauvais, France, on Monday. — Reuters

Published: Mon 29 Jan 2024, 3:19 PM

French farmers began moving on Paris on Monday, threatening to choke off major motorways and blockade the capital to press their demands better working conditions, in an intensifying standoff with the government.

In recent weeks there have been a slew of protests in the European Union's largest agriculture producing country by farmers angry about insufficient income, red tape and environmental policies they say undermine their ability to compete with less stringent countries.

"We need answers," said Karine Duc, a farmer in the southwestern Lot-et-Garonne department as she joined a convoy of tractors heading for Paris.

"This is the final battle for farming. It's a question of survival," she told AFP.

A banner on a tractor in the convoy said: "We will not die in silence."

Farmers said they plan to step up their pressure campaign by establishing eight chokepoints along the major arteries to Paris on Monday afternoon.

In response, the government ordered the deployment of 15,000 police and gendarmes.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told the forces to show moderation.

But he also warned the farmers not to interfere with strategic spots.

"We're not going to allow government buildings or tax offices or supermarkets to be damaged or lorries transporting foreign produce to be stopped. Obviously, that is unacceptable," he said.

Darmanin said nor would protests be allowed to affect operations at Paris's Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, or at the Rungis international wholesale food market south of the city.

Armoured police vehicles were deployed to Rungis on Monday after some farmers threatened to "occupy" it.

Police and gendarmes are also under orders to prevent any incursion into Paris itself, said Darmanin.

The government has been trying to keep discontent among farmers from spreading ahead of European Parliament elections in June which are seen as a key test for President Emmanuel Macron's government.

During a visit to a farm on Sunday, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal sought again to address farmers' concerns, after a raft of concessions announced on Friday failed to defuse the crisis.

"I want us to clarify things and see what extra measures we can take," he said.

Arnaud Rousseau, leader of the main farmers' union FNSEA, said he expected to meet Attal later on Monday.

"Our goal is not to annoy French people or make their lives difficult but to put pressure on the government," he told the RTL broadcaster.

Some roadblocks were lifted over the weekend but tractor-driving farmers were back early on Monday, gathering at assembly spots to start their slow drive towards the capital.

FNSEA and the Jeunes Agricultueurs (Young Farmers) plan to start their siege of Paris around 2:00 pm (1300 GMT) on Monday.

Around 30 activists from environmental group Greenpeace launched smoke grenades on Paris's Place de la Concorde near the Champs-Elysees early on Monday.

They unfurled a banner in support of the protesting farmers before being escorted away by police without incident.

Taxi drivers staged their own protest movement on Monday against what they say is insufficient remuneration for the transport of patients by the French health services.

Their go-slows were beginning to choke off motorways across the country, including the A13 leading into Paris.

In neighbouring Belgium, farmers have stepped up their own campaign, blocking a key motorway on Sunday as they too demand better conditions.

Dozens of tractors drove at a crawl through an interchange, halting traffic on the E42 motorway just north of Namur in the south of the country.

Farmers protesting outside a Belgian football stadium also delayed a weekend match between Racing Genk and Sint-Truiden by 30 minutes.

In recent weeks, farmers' protests have also mushroomed in Germany, Poland, Romania and the Netherlands.


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