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A French farmer drives his tractor next to a luxury sport car in protest towards Paris CDG airport yesterday. Alamy Stock Photo
tractor protest

French farmers start to block off major motorways around Paris

In recent weeks there have been a slew of protests in the European Union’s largest agriculture producing country by farmers.

FRENCH FARMERS HAVE begun to choke off major motorways around Paris, threatening to blockade the capital in an intensifying standoff with the government over working conditions.

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

Protesting farmers began to block motorways at 2:00pm(1pm Irish time), starting with the A13 to the west of the capital, and the A4 to the east, AFP reporters said.

Farmers said their objective was to establish eight chokepoints on major roads into Paris.

“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 this afternoon.

Police to protect airports

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 today 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 today, 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.

‘Pressure on the government’

Arnaud Rousseau, leader of the main farmers’ union FNSEA, said he expected to meet Attal later today.

“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 today, gathering at assembly spots to start their slow drive towards the capital.

FNSEA and the Jeunes Agricultueurs (Young Farmers) planned to start their siege of Paris around 2.00 pm today.

Around 30 activists from environmental group Greenpeace launched smoke grenades on Paris’s Place de la Concorde near the Champs-Elysees earlier today.

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 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.