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Dutch farmers protest efforts to cut emissions, reduce herds

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Thousands of Dutch farmers, many driving tractors, poured into The Hague on Wednesday to protest government moves to rein in carbon and nitrogen emissions to better fight climate change.

It was the second major protest this month by Dutch farmers who say the government is unfairly targeting them as it seeks to slash emissions.

"They blame agriculture for everything at the moment because of nitrogen emissions," said farmer Jans de Wilcher.

He added that "we as a sector store far more nitrogen than we produce. So we are actually helping the Dutch problem rather than making it worse — so why do we get the blame?"

The government called in the military to block key intersections in downtown The Hague to prevent farmers reaching the commercial and political center of the city, which is the seat of the Dutch Parliament.

Large camouflage trucks carrying shipping containers were deployed at major roads.

The farmers are angry at recently announced government plans to reduce emissions, particularly of nitrogen. They argue that the government's plans are based on inaccurate readings and calculations by the government-funded National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. The institute disputed that in a statement, calling its nitrogen measuring "robust and scientifically responsible."

The farmers started their demonstration at the central city of De Bilt, where the institute has its headquarters, before heading to The Hague.

There, they gathered around a small stage to listen to music and speeches from farmers and politicians. Some farmers managed to drive their tractors through parts of the city, while others blocked tram tracks near the central railway station.

There were no reports of violence.

Mayor of The Hague Johan Remkes appealed to the farmers to stick to agreements about where they could protest — meaning they had to stay out of the town center.

"Ignoring agreements is unacceptable and dangerous for residents and shoppers," he said, warning residents to take extra care amid the traffic disruptions.

Farmers by the hundreds parked on a large grassy field just outside the city center and police effectively turned the main highway into the city into a tractor parking lot. Some farmers even drove along the North Sea beach, parking there and coming into town on busses, police said.

Their lobby is powerful because of the economic significance of agriculture to the Dutch economy. The Dutch farmers' organization, LTO, says exports from the country's nearly 54,000 farms and agriculture businesses were worth 90.3 billion euros ($98.3 billion) last year.

But it comes at an environmental cost, with farms emitting carbon and nitrogen.

Earlier this month, the Dutch government announced a raft of measures to rein in nitrogen emissions, including a voluntary program to buy up old, inefficient farms and subsidies to help other farms modernize.

Other measures take aim at the country's construction and transport industries, which also are responsible for emissions.

One tractor in The Hague bore a sign saying simply: "No farmers. No food. No future."

And at the demonstration, Jeroen van Maanen of the Farmers Defence Force told the crowd: "The farmer is always part of the solution."


Mike Corder reported from London.


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