The streets of Paris were invaded yesterday by a convoy of 1,300 tractors and 10,000 cereal farmers, demanding government help for their crisis-hit industry.
The tractors rolled through the streets to the sound of blaring horns and exploding firecrackers. Supporters, ranging from small, blonde toddlers to white-moustached pensioners, wore white T-shirts warning: "Danger, angry farmers!" Some clambered on to telephone boxes to wave flags and blow whistles as the banner-clad tractors rolled past.
Cereal farmers from 14 different French regions had spent up to two days driving their tractors to Paris, in a demand for government tax breaks. For decades cereal farming was one of the most flourishing industries in France, but in recent years revenues have dropped rapidly.
Since 2008 market prices for wheat have almost halved, from €198 (£172) per tonne to around €112.
The farmers are also angry at recent reforms of the EU Common Agricultural Policy. Traditionally the biggest recipients of generous CAP funding, cereal farmers have seen large portions of their subsidies transferred to farmers and breeders from poorer areas. The mood among the protesters was festive, but their discontent was clear.
"We're seriously tightening our belts," said Christophe, a 31-year-old cereal farmer from the Seine-et-Marne region. "We need price support or there's going to be a big calamity soon."
Many accuse President Nicolas Sarkozy of lacking the "rural fibre" of his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, despite government reassurances that Mr Sarkozy "loves farmers", a significant political force in France.
Christophe seemed unconvinced. "Sarko doesn't want farmers anymore. He just wants Carla."
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