February 29th, 2024

France’s protesting farmers encircle Paris with tractor barricades, vowing a ‘siege’ over grievances

By Sylvie Corbet And John Leicester, The Associated Press on January 29, 2024.

People watch slurry, manure and tyres dumped by farmers at the entrance of the local state administration building, in Agen, southwestern France, Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. French farmers have vowed to continue protesting and are maintaining traffic barricades on some of the country's major roads. The government announced a series of measures Friday but the farmers say these do not fully address their demands. (AP Photo/Fred Scheiber)

JOSSIGNY, France (AP) – Protesting farmers were encircling Paris with tractor barricades and drive-slows on Monday, using their lumbering vehicles to block highways leading to France’s capital to pressure the government over the future of their industry, which has been shaken by repercussions of the Ukraine war.

The targeting of Paris – host of the Summer Olympics in six months – and traffic-snarling protests elsewhere in France promised another difficult week for new Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, less than a month into the job.

Attal failed to defuse the farmers’ movement last week with pro-agriculture measures that protesters said fell short of their demands that producing food should be more lucrative, easier and fairer.

Protesters responded with the deployment of hundreds of tractors, trailers and even rumbling harvesters to block and slow traffic in what they described as a “siege” to squeeze more concessions from Attal’s government. Some protesters came with reserves of food and water and tents to stay at their barricades if the government doesn’t cede ground.

The sight of tractor barricades creating long lines of vehicles highlighted the gulfs in economic and social opportunity between town and country in France. Protesters said they felt ignored by government ministers they accused of rarely venturing to farms and getting their shoes dirty.

The government announced a deployment of 15,000 police officers, mostly in the Paris region, to head off any effort by protesters to get into the capital itself. Officers and armored vehicles also were stationed at Paris’ hub for fresh food supplies, the Rungis market.

At Jossigny near the Disneyland theme park outside Paris, protesters blocked all six lanes of the A4 highway, parking their tractors so they formed what looked like an ear of wheat when seen from the air. Some vehicles carried placards declaring “No food without farmers” and “The end of us would mean famine for you.”

South of the capital, protesters used forklifts to deposit hay bales to block the A6 highway, broadcaster BFM-TV’s images showed.

“Our goal isn’t to bother or to ruin French people’s lives,” Arnaud Rousseau, president of the influential FNSEA agricultural union, said on RTL radio. “Our goal is to put pressure on the government to rapidly find solutions out of the crisis.”

The movement in France is another manifestation of a global food crisis worsened by Russia’s nearly two-year full-scale war in Ukraine, a major food producer.

French farmers assert that war-impacted higher prices for fertilizer, energy and other inputs for growing crops and feeding livestock have eaten into their incomes, even making farming untenable for some.

Protesters also argue that France’s massively subsidized farming sector is over-regulated and hurt by food imports from countries where agricultural producers face lower costs and fewer constraints. Rousseau used Ukrainian sugar producers as an example, saying their soaring exports to Europe since Russia invaded in February 2022 are “untenable” for European counterparts.

Taxi drivers with other grievances also organized drive-slow protests Monday. Traffic authorities in the Paris area reported protests causing snarls on multiple major highways heading into the capital. Authorities elsewhere in the country also reported disruptions and recommended that road users switch to public transport if possible.

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Leicester reported from Le Pecq, France.

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