Paris, like London or New York, is beset with endless urban problems. It takes a lot for Parisians to worry about French farmers. But that is changing as tractors and other agricultural vehicles noisily make their way toward the capital, unsettling residents.
By Adam Parsons, Europe correspondent @adamparsons
Monday, January 29, 2024, 8:17 p.m., UK
Paris is slowly being surrounded.
Farmers are streaming into the French capital from various directions, bringing their anger to the heart of the nation.
Eight hundred tractors surround the city.
From a Parisian perspective, since these protests broke out, they have also happened in other places and with other people.
Highways may have been shut down across much of the country, but not here. Not until now.
Image: Tractors and other vehicles are queuing on the A16 motorway. Image: Portal
And while farmers' anger may be heard loudly across much of France where agriculture still plays a central role in daily life, that hasn't happened so often in decades Paris.
This extraordinary metropolis, like London or New York, is beset with limitless urban problems. It takes a lot for Parisians to worry about French farmers.
But now that will certainly change. As tractors and other agricultural vehicles noisily make their way towards the capital, Paris is worried.
Image: Farmers place hay bales on a highway near Paris' main airport near Roissy-en-France, north of Paris. Image: AP
Could Paris be “starved” by the protests?
Protest organizers have identified eight “choke points” that they are using to disrupt the flow of traffic.
The idea, depending on who you believe, is to either cause so much turmoil that the minds of millions of people are concentrated throughout the city, or, to put it more bluntly, to “starve” the population.
The specter of famine is of course exaggerated, but even the government agency Ademe estimates that Paris only has three days' worth of food supplies if they were cut off.
Image: Farmers' protest Paris: Our end will be your hunger.” Image: AP
Hyperbole is as much a part of this protest as any other. But the rhetoric, backed up by the sight of hundreds of tractors driving along the main roads towards Paris, has certainly attracted attention.
Aware of the demonstrators' plans to encircle Paris, the government has called in 15,000 police officers. This is not only to keep the farmers back, but also to calm a nervous city.
The government held an emergency ministerial meeting. Tensions are high.
Why are farmers blocking roads in France?
Huge fresh food market “is the goal”
And so we find ourselves standing in front of the Rungis International Market, an absolutely huge complex dedicated to selling fresh food.
This is Europe's largest food market – the second largest wholesale food market in the world. And right now it is protected by armored police vehicles.
The market is a controversial focus of farmers' protests.
Some believe it should be left alone as it is vital to their own prosperity.
Image: Farmers drive to Paris with their tractors. Image: AP
However, others claim that Paris can only understand the value of its farming community if it is cut off from their products.
“The Rungis market is the target,” said Veronique Le Floc'h, president of Rural Coordination, an agricultural union.
Woman sits on haystack and is killed after car crashes into protesting farmers' roadblock
Image: Farmers gather at a barbecue while blocking a highway in Argenteuil, north of Paris. Image:AP
Not letting faith decide over anything
The armored vehicles stand dark blue and menacing in front of the main entrance to the market.
Each has a turret that can fire grenades and even bullets. They are made of uncompromisingly thick metal. There's nothing gentle about that.
Surrounding them are the vans of the CRS, the French riot police known from so many protests over the years.
There is a water cannon not far away. Not much is left to chance here.
Image: Armored police vehicles near the international market. Image: Portal
So far, the police response to this growing protest movement has been conciliatory. Blockades were tolerated and disruptions were accepted.
But the simple truth is: what can be accepted in the provinces will not be tolerated on the streets of Paris.
The specter of the French capital being held to ransom is politically unacceptable.
Gabriel Attal, the 34-year-old prime minister, who was just there at work for a few weeksHe is already facing his first leadership crisis.
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But while politicians and police ponder their response, the tractors rumble forward.
They have already set up blockades on the main highways to and from Paris. And more farmers are on the way.