- Farmers unions call off protest telling members to lift the road blocks that had been stationed on routes into Paris
- One motorist killed and six others injured in two separate accidents amid farmers' blockade around Paris on Thursday
- French transport minister Frédéric Cuvilier calls for "immediate lifting" of the blockade in response to the accidents
- The man killed in the crash was a fireman on his way to work, who died after a collision with a heavy goods vehicle (HGV) which formed part of the farmers' road block
French transport minister Frédéric Cuvilier has demanded an "immediate lifting" of the blockade around Paris on Thursday morning, after a motorist – reportedly a fireman on his way to work – was killed in an accident at a road block in the Val d'Oise department.
Six others were injured when a tractor and a CRS riot police vehicle collided at a road block.
Cuvilier confirmed earlier reports of a fatality on his Twitter account. "Two accidents at farmers' roadblocks in Ile de France, with one death. Danger! I am calling for the immediate lifting of the roadblocks. #Responsibility"
Deux accidents dans les barrages des agriculteurs en IDF, avec un mort. Danger! J'appelle à lever immédiatement les barrages #responsabilité
— Frédéric Cuvillier (@fcuvillier) November 21, 2013
The protest, provoked by anger over rising taxes and costs, has caused disruption on certain roads in the Ile de France region around Paris on Thursday morning, consistent with the farmers' stated goal of bringing traffic around the capital to a standstill.
According to the latest pre-rush hour reports there were no major traffic jams, but certain roads were affected including the N10, N20 and A6, and traffic on the N14 near Vigny is also facing disruption. Farmers set up a filter on the N104 atthe "Green Cross roundabout" at 8.30am, which was expected to slow traffic.
At Epones it is impossible to get access to the A13 motorway and on the N12 near Creteil, the road has been blocked.
On Wednesday French police issued a warning to motorists that many roads will be affected by the protests and listed the A6, A10, A12, A13, A15 and the N12, N20, N118 as routes to avoid.
Led by the country’s leading agricultural union, the FNSEA, the farmers announced on Monday they would be setting up filters on all major routes in and out of the French capital to slow traffic, as anger in the face of rising taxes reaches boiling point.
“We’re absolutely sick of it – regulations, checks, taxes, the ecotax, the hike in VAT, it’s all piling up,” French farmer Pierre Bot told Europe 1 radio, referring to a hotly-contested would-be tax on road transport, and a planned increase of VAT from seven to 20 percent in some industries.
Frustrated by a perceived lack of response from the Socialist government of President François Hollande, farmers based in the Ile de France region around Paris have decided to take the drastic measure of crippling traffic in and out of France’s economic capital.
“This was the only solution we could find to make ourselves heard,” said Bot. “There will be farmers, tractors, horses, trucks, and agricultural suppliers,” he added.
Local FNSEA chief François Lecoq shared the young farmer’s determination.
“We’re going to blockade the country,” he told Europe 1 on Monday. “We’re going to blockade all the major routes around Paris, we’re ready for that,” he added.
“[We’re fed up of] this increase in VAT from seven to 20 percent on fertilizer, accommodation for horses, the ecotax on transport, which will make the burden even heavier,” said Lecoq.
The plan to engage in mass disruption and protests in Paris on Thursday morning comes after weeks of vigorous demonstrations with agrifood and road transport workers in the Brittany region of western France.
Dubbed the “Bonnets Rouges” after their emblematic red hats, a reference to a 17th-century tax revolt, the movement has itself blockaded major motorways in and around Brittany, and clashed with riot police.
Some frustrated members of the movement have also destroyed dozens of speed radars and metal toll gates set to be used to enforce the ecotax.
The protests in Brittany forced French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to back down last month, and he suspended the ecotax, which would have been implemented from January 1st 2014, pending a “dialogue” with the movement.
The Bonnets Rouges blockades and protests, however, have continued, as the movement’s leaders demand the total abandonment of the ecotax, which they fear would cripple the agrifood sector, which is crucial in the region.
On Saturday, around 2,000 trucks caused significant disruption to traffic in and out of several French cities including Paris, Strasbourg, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Marseille, Lyon and Lille.
Last week, around 2,000 protestors brought horses and ponies to protest in Dijon, eastern France, against the planned VAT hike on the equine sector.
Thursday’s planned blockade by farmers, then, will take place in an atmosphere of widespread anger in France and near-revolutionary levels of opposition to the policies of the Socialist-led government.
One French newspaper last week even went so far as to warn that the country was “on the brink of social explosion.”