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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Farmers block traffic near Paris before prime minister’s speech




By Aurelien Breeden


Barricades of tractors and bales of hay snarled traffic around Paris on Tuesday for a second day as hundreds of angry farmers blocked roads in and out of the French capital before a major policy speech by France’s prime minister.


Authorities closed off whole sections of at least seven major highways around Paris because of the protests, sometimes for several miles, as farmers demanded solutions to their varied list of demands on farming subsidies, environmental regulations and foreign competition.


About 1,000 protesters with more than 500 tractors formed the road barricades around Paris, according to estimates by French authorities reported in the news media.


The traffic bottlenecks, while bad, did not encircle the city and were not crippling, and broader disruptions to the French capital, such as delayed deliveries of food and other products, were so far limited.


Protesting farmers also blocked roads in other areas of France. In the southwestern region, where the protests started and where they have been particularly acute, farmers tried to block access to the main airport serving Toulouse by setting bales of hay on fire.


The French prime minister, Gabriel Attal, was expected Tuesday to give his first major policy speech since his appointment to the position by President Emmanuel Macron this month.


Attal has tried to appease the protesters by scrapping plans to end state subsidies for fuel used by farmers and by vowing more rapid aid for cattle sickened by a hemorrhagic disease that recently hit the southwest, among other measures.


But those attempts do not appear to have placated many of the protesters.


The government has promised further measures, but it was not immediately clear whether Attal would use his speech to announce them. The speech, a wide-ranging presentation of his government’s plans before the lower house of Parliament, was scheduled before the farmer protests erupted across France last week.


Arnaud Rousseau, the head of France’s largest and most powerful farmers’ union, told Europe 1 radio Tuesday that his members were “fully determined.” But, he added, “our goal is not disorder,” and he urged for “calm” and “nonviolent” protests.


That strategy is being challenged by smaller, more radical unions and groups of farmers. Some of them have suggested disrupting the wholesale food market in Rungis, just south of Paris — one of the largest in Europe, and a crucial source of produce for the capital region.


Authorities have already deployed armored police vehicles there to head off any incursions. Police forces have also tried to delay a convoy of about 200 tractors that left southwestern France on Monday with Rungis in its sights.


Macron has said little publicly so far about the farmers’ ire. He was on an official trip to India last week during much of the protests, and he is currently in Sweden for a state visit.

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