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Farmers in the Netherlands have formed their own version of Canada’s “Freedom Convoy,” blockading highways with tractors, setting fire to hay bales and taking other measures to protest the government’s recent goal to cut emissions, which has forced some farms to close could force.
“Where’s our Prime Minister? This country is on fire and the farmers are turning against the government,” a spokesman for the protests said last week while standing on a haystack in the town of Eerbeek, the Guardian reported.
Around 40,000 demonstrators gathered in the center of the Netherlands to protest plans to curb nitrogen and ammonia emissions last month. Weeks later, protests continue across the country with no sign of abating.
Photos and videos show farmers bringing a motorway to a standstill near the German border, with some Germans reportedly even joining the protest. Hundreds of shops in three cities have been virtually closed due to three separate protests, the Guardian reported on Saturday. Meanwhile, some supermarkets have empty shelves as farmers also targeted distribution centers earlier this month.
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Farmers say the protests are not intended to anger fellow citizens and consumers but to force the government to hold a referendum.
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The Dutch government aims to reduce nitrogen and ammonia emissions by 50% by 2030 to improve air, land and water quality. The plans include reducing the amount of fertilizer used on farms and reducing livestock numbers by an estimated 30%.
The country is one of the largest agricultural producers in the world, exporting around US$97 billion worth of fruit, flowers, vegetables, dairy and meat in 2020.
“If you ask me now, I would say please don’t even think about it,” said dairy farmer Jaap Zegwaard of whether he would recommend farming to younger generations. “There are so many worries. Life is far too beautiful to concern yourself with what is going on in agriculture.”
“Ask the average farmer: it’s deeply sad,” he said.
Farmers say they are unfairly targeted by the regulations, while other industries such as aviation, construction and transport also contribute to emissions and are less regulated. Farmers also argued that they had not been given a clear picture of their future in the face of the reforms.
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The convoys of tractors are a nod to Canada’s Freedom Convoys, the Guardian reported, which were held across Canada earlier this year to protest the nation’s tough coronavirus vaccine policy.
Fishermen in the Netherlands have also joined the protests and blocked the harbor in Harlingen with trawlers last week, EuroNews reported.
The demonstrations are so widespread that Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger wanted to call out to the farmers in Dutch during a concert in Amsterdam on Thursday.
The Dutch protests gained more attention on Tuesday when police opened fire on a 16-year-old farmer driving a tractor during a protest in the north of the country. According to Deutsche Welle, the teenager is said to have driven his tractor towards the police. After initially being held on suspicion of attempted manslaughter, the teenager was released without charge. According to police, no one was injured in the incident.
The protests were mostly peaceful, with a demonstration deviating from a road about 60 miles east of Amsterdam to allow two funeral processions to pass. Farmers at the protests also distributed food and coffee to police officers, the Guardian reported.
The nation’s Prime Minister Mark Rutte, meanwhile, has blasted the protesters, including labeling them “A-holes” in private company, according to the Guardian.
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“It is not acceptable to create dangerous situations. It is unacceptable to intimidate officials,” he said last week.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.