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Farmers set fires and attack barriers near EU summit

Angry farmers have hurled stones, lit fires and tried to tear down barriers in front of the European Parliament as they demanded help from EU leaders.


People gather outside the European Parliament during a protest by farmers as European leaders meet for an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. Image AAP

Farmers have thrown eggs and stones at the European Parliament, starting fires near the building and setting off fireworks amid protests to press a summit of European Union leaders to do more to help them with taxes and rising costs.


Small groups on Thursday tried to tear down the barriers erected in front of parliament - a few blocks from where the summit was taking place - but police fired tear gas and sprayed water at the farmers with hoses to push them back.


A statue on the square was damaged and major thoroughfares in Brussels were blocked by about 1300 tractors, according to a police estimate.


Police sprayed water at farmers who tried tear down barriers in front of the European Parliament.


Security personnel in riot gear stood guard behind barriers where the leaders were meeting at European Council headquarters.


"If you see with how many people we are here today, and if you see it's all over Europe, so you must have hope," said Kevin Bertens, a farmer from just outside Brussels.


"You need us. Help us!"


Farmers from Italy, Spain and other European countries took part in the demonstration in Brussels, as well as continuing their protests at home.


In Portugal, farmers made their way to the Spanish border at the crack of dawn to block some of the roads links between the two countries.


In France, farmers headed towards the lower house of parliament in Paris while drone footage showed a huge convoy of tractors on an motorway near Jossigny as others blocked highways around the French capital.


Farmers say they are not being paid enough, are choked by taxes and green rules and face unfair competition from abroad.


Major thoroughfares in Brussels were blocked by about 1300 tractors.


The protests across Europe come ahead of European Parliament elections in June in which the far right, for whom farmers represent a growing constituency, is seen making gains.


While the farmers' crisis is not officially on the agenda of the EU summit, which so far has focused on aid to Ukraine, an EU diplomat said the situation with the farmers was likely to be discussed later in the day.


Farmers have already secured several measures, including the bloc's executive Commission proposals to limit farm imports from Ukraine and loosen some environmental regulations on fallow lands, which several EU leaders welcomed as they arrived at the summit.


In France, where farmers have been protesting for weeks, the government has dropped plans to gradually reduce subsidies on agricultural diesel and promised more aid.


But farmers say that was not enough and they want more from EU leaders.


"You know what's happening: European elections are coming and politicians are super nervous and also the European Commission.


And I think that this is the best moment that together all the European farmers go to the street," said Jose Maria Castilla, a farmer representing the Spanish farmers' union Asaja.


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