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French farmers aim to put Paris ‘under siege’ in tractor protest

Farmers pushing for better pay and protection against cheap imported alternatives
Farmers block a highway, near 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)

France’s interior ministry on Sunday ordered a large deployment of security forces around Paris as angry farmers threatened to head toward the capital, hours after climate activists hurled soup at the glass protecting the “Mona Lisa” painting at the Louvre Museum.

French farmers are putting pressure on the government to respond to their demands for better remuneration for their produce, less red tape and protection against cheap imports.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin held a security meeting Sunday before potential road blockades around Paris, his office said in a statement.

Darmanin ordered security forces to “prevent any blockade” of Rungis International Market and Paris airports as well as to ban any convoy of farmers from entering the capital, the statement said.

Farmers of the Rural Coordination union in the Lot-et-Garonne region, where the protests originated, plan to use their tractors to head Monday toward the Rungis International Market, which supplies the capital and surrounding region with much of its fresh food.

France’s two biggest farmers unions said in a statement that their members based in areas surrounding the Paris region would seek to block all major roads to the capital, with the aim of putting the city “under siege,” starting from Monday afternoon.

Earlier Sunday, two climate activists hurled soup Sunday at the glass protecting the “Mona Lisa” and shouted slogans advocating for a sustainable food system.

In a video posted on social media, two women with the words “FOOD RIPOSTE” written on their T-shirts could be seen passing under a security barrier to get closer to the painting and throwing soup at the glass protecting Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece.

“What’s the most important thing?” they shouted. “Art, or right to a healthy and sustainable food?”

“Our farming system is sick. Our farmers are dying at work,” they added.

The Louvre employees could then be seen putting black panels in front of the Mona Lisa and asking visitors to evacuate the room.

Paris police said that two people were arrested following the incident.

On its website, the “Food Riposte” group said the French government is breaking its climate commitments and called for the equivalent of the country’s state-sponsored health care system to be put in place to give people better access to healthy food while providing farmers a decent income.

Angry French farmers have been using their tractors for days to set up road blockades and slow traffic across France. They also dumped stinky agricultural waste at the gates of government offices.

On Friday, the government announced a series of measures that farmers said don’t fully address their demands. Those include “drastically simplifying” certain technical procedures and the progressive end to diesel fuel taxes for farm vehicles.

France’s new prime minister, Gabriel Attal, visited a farm on Sunday in the central region of Indre-et-Loire. He acknowledged that farmers are in a difficult position because “on the one side we say ‘we need quality’ and on the other side ’we want ever-lower prices.’”

“What’s at stake is finding solutions in the short, middle and long term,” he said, “because we need our farmers.”

Attal also said his government is considering “additional” measures against what he called “unfair competition” from other countries that have different production rules and are importing food to France.

He promised “other decisions” to be made in the coming weeks to address farmers’ concerns.

Sylvie Corbet, The Associated Press