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French farmers’ protests have escalated, prompting calls from the Paris branches of two major unions, FNSEA and Jeunes Agriculteurs, to block access to the capital starting on Friday. On Thursday, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal held a crisis meeting to address the situation. This marks the first crisis for the recently appointed Prime Minister, who gathered his economy, environment, and agriculture ministers to determine aid measures and prevent a potential blockade of Paris. The Agriculture Ministry announced that the government’s decisions would be presented on Friday following the meeting.

Two prominent unions, FNSEA and Jeunes Agriculteurs, called for the initiation of a Paris blockade, scheduled for 2 pm on Friday. The national leader of Jeunes Agriculteurs considered such an action as a “last resort.” Simultaneously, farmers across France blocked roads at 77 locations, with tractors parading through cities like Rennes and Nantes. Protests also included blockades on major highways near Strasbourg, Lille, Avignon, Marseille, and a tractor go-slow around the Bordeaux ring road.

More intense demonstrations involved winegrowers accessing warehouses in Béziers, and some protesters near Montélimar halted and emptied foreign trucks carrying produce from Spain, Morocco, and Bulgaria. Farmers express frustration with challenges such as margin pressure from supermarkets and the food industry, complex environmental regulations, and the removal of a diesel tax break for farm equipment.

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The FNSEA, in coordination with other unions, demanded immediate answers on pay and urgent assistance for crisis-hit sectors. The government faces pressure to act promptly to avoid a repeat of the Yellow Vests protests in 2018-19. The rare alliance between rival farmers’ unions, including the left-wing Confédération Paysanne, adds to the significance of the protests. President Macron’s government is cautious about potential clashes and has instructed police to show “great restraint.”

The government’s aim to keep tensions low is evident in Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin’s directive for local authorities to deploy police as a “last resort.” While FNSEA head Rousseau indicated no immediate plans to blockade Paris, there are concerns from union representatives that the protests might edge closer to the capital by Friday or Saturday. The head of Jeunes Agriculteurs emphasized that blockading Paris would be a “last resort,” urging the government to prevent “paralyzing the country.

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