Hollande says ‘buy local’ as farmers block Lyon

French farmers took their protests into a fourth day on Thursday with road blocks set up around the second city of Lyon. President François Hollande tried to ease the crisis by meeting union leaders.

Hollande says 'buy local' as farmers block Lyon
Hollande urged local restaurants and cafes to "buy French". Photo: AFP

French farmers, left unsatisfied with the government’s €600 million 24-point plan aimed at saving them from bankruptcy, decided to continue their protests on Thursday, which have paralyzed roads and towns in parts of the country.

Unions also warned that “new action” would take place in the “two or three days to come” to protest against the low prices for their produce.

Xavier Beulin, the president of the FNSEA union said on Thursday the anger among farmers must “express itself” but PM Manuel Valls said holiday makers are being punished by the action.

Beulin spoke a day after the government unveiled a package worth more than €600 million, which he dismissed as insufficient.

As a result farmers around the country returned to their barricades at the tourist site of Mont -Saint-Michel and set new ones as the movement spread south.

Although road blocks were dismantled around the Normandy town of Caen, the focal point of protests the movement has now spread across the country and road blocks were in place around Lyon on Thursday morning.

Three main roads into the city from the north, south and east were blocked by hundreds of tractors.

(Motorists caught in a jam as farmers block the Oleron bridge. AFP)

There were also said to road blocks in place around the central city of Clermont-Ferrand and farmers warned of action in parts of Burgundy and other regions.

The Pont d'Oleron which links the main land to the island of Oleron remain blocked. On Wednesday numerous tourists were stuck on the island when the barricades went up.

Le Parisien news site published an interactive map of where all the road blocks are. It can be viewed by clicking here.

'Buy French', president pleads

Faced with a growing political crisis, President Francois Hollande added to his schedule an impromptu visit to the eastern city of Dijon to meet officials from top agricultural unions.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, the president described the emergency package as “vital” for an industry in crisis.

He urged local restaurants and cafes to “buy French”, complaining that “in canteens, two-thirds of food still does not come from France.”

Hollande also announced that he and his ministers were in the process of a sales drive around the world — notably in China and north Africa — to encourage other countries to snap up French exports.

“I will be going myself to China at the beginning of November, to support our dairy producers,” he added

Farmers should be valued as business-people who “work hard to make sure that our food is of good quality and that our country can shine due to its excellence,” said Hollande.

(Police remove shopping trolleys dumped on the A6 Motorway to the north of Lyon. Photo: AFP)

A combination of changing dietary habits — French consumers are eating less meat — and foreign competition has driven down pork, beef and milk prices.

Farmers blame supermarkets, distributors and the food processing industry for keeping prices low.

Retailers and food industry chiefs promised to raise prices on meat and dairy after meeting farmers last month, but the farmers say price hikes in supermarkets have yet to filter down to them.

Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll has said around 10 percent of farms in France (approximately 22,000 operations) are on the brink of bankruptcy with a combined debt of €1 billion, according to the FNSEA farming union.

The French government has been at pains to tell the farmers that they understand their plight, with Valls declaring “We hear the anguish of the farmers”.

But on Thursday morning Valls told French radio that: “Anger does not allow for everything; I hope the barricades will be lifted. They cannot penalize those who want to go way on holiday.

(Roads in and out of Lyon were blocked on Thursday morning. Photo: AFP)

To ease the crisis in French farming the government announced it would waive around €100 million in taxes and set aside a further €500 million to give farmers more time to pay various debts and taxes.

In addition, France's public investment bank will guarantee 500 million euros in loans for farmers to ease their cash flow crisis.

Valls called on local authorities to go and meet farmers to explain to them the aid package in a bid to stave off further protests.

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French hunter kills bear that bit him

A 70-year-old hunter killed a bear in southwest France Saturday after it attacked and seriously wounded him, local officials said.

A brown bear is pictured in the semi-wildlife animal park of Les Angles, southwestern France.
Brown bears had nearly disappeared in France until the country began a reintroduction programme, importing them from Slovenia. AFP PHOTO / RAYMOND ROIG

The female bear, who was travelling with her cubs, bit him as he was hunting in the Seix region of Ariege, a source close to the case said.

Rescued by the local gendarmerie, he was transported to the intensive care unit of a hospital in Toulouse with a wound to his leg at the level of his femoral artery, officials at the prefecture in Ariege said.

One source close to the case said he was in a serious condition.

The hunter told local officials he had been out with a group of other hunters on the trail of a boar, when the female bear, who was travelling with her cubs, attacked him.

After being wounded, the hunter shot the bear twice, killing it.

The local gendarme unit was called out to rescue him at around 3:30 pm (1430 GMT). They discovered the body of the bear a few metres from where they had found the hunter.

An investigation has been opened into the incident, the prefecture in Ariege said.

One local official told AFP on Saturday: “This is really what we feared.”

“Today, you can really see that cohabitation is complicated,” said Christine Tequi, president of the Ariege department council.

The brown bear had nearly disappeared in this part of the world when France began a programme of reintroducing them, importing them from Slovenia.

Today, there are around sixty of them in the Pyrenees range, leading to increasing tensions with local farmers, because of the threat they pose to their livestock.

In 2020, three bears were illegally killed in the Pyrenees: two of them in Spain and one in France. The French government has committed to replacing any bear killed by a man.

READ ALSO: The decades-old battle between French farmers and conservationists over bears
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