Tractors and other vehicles queue on the A1 highway during a protest over price pressures, taxes and green regulation, grievances shared by farmers across Europe, in Chennevieres-les-Louvres, near Paris, France, January 29, 2024. Image Credit: REUTERS

PARIS: French farmers choked off major motorways around Paris on Monday, threatening to blockade the capital in an intensifying standoff with the government over working conditions.

In recent weeks there has been a slew of protests in France, a major agricultural producer, by farmers angry about incomes, red tape and environmental policies they say undermine their ability to compete with other countries.

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Protesting farmers started the operation by blocking the A13 highway to the west of the capital, the A4 to the east and the A6 on which hundreds of tractors rolled towards Paris from the south.

By mid-afternoon they appeared to have met their objective of establishing eight chokepoints on major roads into Paris, according to Sytadin, a traffic monitoring service.

“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.

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“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.”

Police to protect airports

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

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told security forces to show restraint. 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,” he said.

Darmanin said the protests would also not be allowed to affect Paris’s Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, or 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.

Macron called a meeting with several ministers Monday afternoon to discuss the situation, his office said.

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.

‘Given us nibbles’

Farmer leaders said the government’s responses were insufficient.

“The prime minister has given us nibbles, and now we’d like him to work a bit harder and give us more,” said Arnaud Lepoil, a member of the leading farmers’ union FNSEA.

Arnaud Rousseau, the FNSEA’s leader, and Young Farmers union boss Arnaud Gaillot were to meet with Attal later Monday, sources told AFP.

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

Earlier, around 30 activists from environmental group Greenpeace launched smoke grenades on Paris’s Place de la Concorde near the Champs-Elysees.

They unfurled a banner in support of the farmers before being escorted away by police.

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 added to the disruption on motorways.

In neighbouring Belgium, farmers have stepped up their own campaign.

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