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Farmers flood Madrid in protest

People look at a farmers’ protest in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2024. PHOTO: AP

MADRID (AP) — Hundreds of farmers drove their tractors into central Madrid on Wednesday as part of ongoing protests against European Union and local farming policies and to demand measures to alleviate production cost hikes.

The protest, the biggest to take place in the Spanish capital after more than two weeks of daily protests across the country, will include a rally outside the Agriculture Ministry headquarters.

Many of the tractors flew Spanish flags and some farmers carried banners reading, “There is no life without farming,” and “Farmers in Extinction.”

“It is impossible to live from the rural industry, which is what we want, to live from our work. That is all we ask for,” Silvia Ruiz, 46, a livestock farmer from the north-central area of Burgos told The Associated Press.

The Union of Unions organising group said they were bringing 500 tractors and many more farmers on buses. Many of the tractors may have to stay outside of the city because of government restrictions.

Similar protests have taken place across the bloc in recent weeks. Farmers complain that the 27-nation EU’s policies on the environment and other matters are a financial burden and make their products more expensive than non-EU imports.

Spain and the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, have made some concessions in recent weeks but farmers say they are insufficient.

Besides EU policies, Spanish farmers maintain that a law aimed at guaranteeing that wholesale major supermarket buyers pay fair prices for their goods isn’t being enforced while consumer prices soar.

In neighbouring France, the EU’s largest agricultural producer, the government of President Emmanuel Macron is also under intense pressure from angry farmers who held major demonstrations last month and have since continued with more scattered protests to push for better pay and other assistance.

Macron is expected to attend the opening of France’s major annual agricultural fair this weekend in Paris. Ahead of that test, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal sought Wednesday to convince the agricultural sector that he is speeding ahead with promised efforts to make farming more lucrative and simpler.

“In recent weeks, across Europe, farmers have made themselves heard with a cry of anger, a cry that comes from deep down,” he said. “Behind this cry is, most of all, a call for action.”

Attal promised draft legislation by the summer to strengthen the hand of French farmers in commercial negotiations with distributors over prices for their produce. He also promised measures to make it easier and cheaper for farmers to hire seasonal workers, including from abroad.

Attal also said his government is working to protect French farmers against imports from Ukraine of chicken, eggs, sugar and cereals.

“Solidarity with Ukraine is obviously essential, but it cannot be to the detriment of our farmers,” the prime minister said.

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