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Brussels: Farmer protests turn violent, as EU ministers meet

Police fired tear gas and deployed water cannons to keep protesting farmers at bay as agriculture ministers from the bloc met a few steps away to revise proposals to ease the crisis.

Protests by farmers in Brussels turned violent Tuesday, as EU agriculture ministers met to ease a crisis that has led to months of protests across the bloc.

Hundreds of tractors sealed off streets close to the EU headquarters to protest what they see as excessive red tape and unfair trading practices.

One person was arrested for throwing Molotov cocktails at security personnel, while two police officers were injured and transferred to hospital, the Belgian police said in a statement.

Farmers threw beets, sprayed manure at police and set hay alight as they lodged their protest against environmental measures and cheap imports from Ukraine.

Police fired tear gas to keep some 250 tractors at bay, with the Belgian government lambasting the turn of events. “The violence, arson and destruction during the protests are unacceptable,” said Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden, who insisted the guilty would be prosecuted.

Authorities asked commuters to stay out of Brussels and work from home where possible.

EU agriculture ministers relax green regulations

The farmers have already won concessions from the EU and national authorities, but a major plan to better protect nature in the 27-nation bloc was indefinitely postponed Monday, underscoring the impact the protests have had.

“We have listened to our farmers and we have taken swift action to address their concerns at a time when they are confronted with numerous challenges,” said Belgian Agriculture Minister David Clarinval, who was chairing the meeting.

EU agriculture ministers signed measures that revise conditions for farmers to gain access to subsidies under EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which had been one of the reasons behind the protests.

The CAP pays critical subsidies to farmers, but under the condition of following strict environmental rules. Clarinval said revising the policy will seek to slash red tape and give farmers more flexibility in complying with green regulations while “maintaining a high level of environmental ambition.”

Environmental groups decried the loosening of regulations, describing it as a big step backwards.  

Source: Dw

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