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Paris (AFP) Nov 21, 2013
Irate French farmers ended a Paris road blockade that left one dead on Thursday with the promise of a ministerial meeting over a disputed subsidy, but with no guarantee of a change in policy.
Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll announced "high-level" talks with grain farmers, who have called for his resignation after grants previously earmarked for them were given to livestock farmers instead.
Many of the protesters held up placards calling for Le Foll's resignation while others read: "We are being mowed down like wheat."
The minister had insisted earlier there was "no question" of going back on the reallocation of subsidies.
Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier had called for the "immediate lifting" of the blockade which was blamed for a crash that killed a car driver, and organisers of the protests followed suit, ordering farmers to free up the roads.
The victim was a fireman who was on his way to work before dawn and crashed his car into a truck forming part of a barricade.
Six people suffered minor injuries in a second accident involving a farmer's truck and an anti-riot police vehicle, the minister's office said.
Cuvillier said the lifting of the barriers was a "question of responsibility and security".
Protesters 'not responsible' for death
Two unions from the Paris region, the FDSEA and JA, had announced a blockade on Paris to "make the voice of the agriculture sector, which has been sacrificed, heard".
They complained their members were being "bludgeoned" by tax rises as well as by "more and more demanding environmental norms, increasing checks and stronger regulatory mechanisms".
Damien Griffin, the head of the FDSEA spearheading the protest, said the farmers had lifted a barrier where the fatal accident occurred out of "compassion" but told AFP the protesters were not responsible for the fireman's death.
He said the union was particularly upset over the reallocation of subsidies to help cattle farmers at the expense of grain producers which would see the latter "see a fall in income of between 30 and 40 percent".
"They are going to massacre arable and dairy farming," he said.
French President Francois Hollande announced in October that the government would use a renegotiation of the EU's Common Agriculture Policy to favour livestock farmers badly hit by the economic crisis over the better-off crop growers.
He said France would use measures including a subsidy bonus on the first 52 hectares of each farm, seen as favouring smaller livestock farms over giant grain producers.
French police had earlier said several key highways would be affected and advised motorists not to take the A6 linking Paris to the eastern city of Lyon and the A10 which connects the capital to Bordeaux.
Hollande's government has already been forced to suspend the planned introduction of a new environmental "ecotax" on commercial vehicles carrying cargo of more than 3.5 tonnes after violent protests in Brittany, a predominantly agricultural region in northern France.
Opponents of the tax, which critics say unfairly penalises remote areas dependent on deliveries by road freight, are demanding it be scrapped altogether.
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