France’s protesting farmers continue to encircle Paris waiting for government aid

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Protesting farmers encircled Paris with traffic-snarling barricades on Monday, using hundreds of lumbering tractors and piles of hay bales to block highways leading into the French capital in a bid to pressure the government over the future of their industry, which has been shaken by the fallout from the war in Ukraine.

A protest that, for the time being, has no end in sight.

Farmers are blocking eight motorways leading to Paris and several hundred are driving their tractors towards the capital’s food market, a few hours before Prime Minister Gabriel Attal is due to make a statement in which he is expected to announce new aid measures for the sector.

“There is total determination,” said Arnaud Rousseau, president of the main and powerful agricultural union, the FNSEA, who was received by Attal yesterday afternoon and announced that they were continuing to negotiate with the government.

In an interview with Europe 1 radio, Rousseau said that there needed to be a “change of course” by the government and “symbolic emergency measures”. He explained that the impression he had gotten from the Prime Minister yesterday was that he was “ready to go further on all issues”.

The farmers have managed to evade police attempts to stop them, as their declared aim is to block access to the Rungis food market, the largest in Europe, some 15 kilometres from Paris.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who has mobilised 15,000 officers in response to the protests, has warned since the weekend that he will not allow this to happen.

However, Darmanin has asked the police not to intervene in the so-called ‘siege’ blockades of Paris or the rest of the country – where there are several dozen – unless there is a threat to property or people.

An effigy of French President Emmanuel Macron is seen on a tractor as farmers demonstrate on a highway, Monday, Jan. 29, 2024

Siege of Paris

The blockade of major roads around Paris – which hosts the Summer Olympics in six months – and protests elsewhere in France promised another difficult week for Attal, who has been in office for less than a month.

Protesters said Attal’s attempts at pro-agriculture measures last week fell short of their demands that food production be made more lucrative, easier and fairer.

Farmers responded on Monday by deploying convoys of tractors, trailers and even rumbling harvesters in what they called a “siege” of Paris to win more concessions. Some protesters came with supplies of food and water, and tents to stay at the barricades if the government didn’t back down.

Transport authorities in the Paris region reported blockages on the A1 motorway north of the city’s main international airport, the A4 near the Disneyland theme park east of the capital and other normally busy roads.

“Our aim isn’t to inconvenience or ruin the lives of French people,” Arnaud Rousseau, president of the influential FNSEA agricultural union, told RTL radio. “Our aim is to put pressure on the government to quickly find solutions to the crisis.”

Farmers in neighbouring Belgium have also set up barricades to stop traffic on some major roads, including those leading to the capital, Brussels. Most of the protests are taking place in the French-speaking part of the country.

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