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  4. Polish farmers stage violent protests in Warsaw, threaten to bring country to standstill | VIDEO

Polish farmers stage violent protests in Warsaw, threaten to bring country to standstill | VIDEO

The protesters burned tyres and threw firecrackers outside PM Donald Tusk's office in the Polish capital as they protested against food imports from Ukraine and the EU's plan on climate change. Police used tear gas, pepper sprays and stun grenades to quell the protest in Warsaw.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Warsaw (Poland) Published on: March 07, 2024 10:39 IST
Poland, farmers protest, Donald Tusk, Warsaw
Image Source : REUTERS Farmers protest outside Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk's office in Warsaw.

Warsaw: Tens and thousands of Polish farmers and supporters staged violent protests outside Prime Minister Donald Tusk's office in Warsaw and clashed with the police, threatening to bring the country to a standstill if their demands were not met. The protesters are protesting against the European Union's proposed climate deal and cheap Ukrainian food imports they say harm their livelihoods.

The protesters burned tyres and threw firecrackers in the Polish capital as they demanded a halt to cheap imports and environmental regulations. Some protesters hurled rocks, cobblestones and firecrackers at the security forces as they marched towards the parliament, with police using batons, pepper sprays, tear gas and stun grenades against demonstrators.

"Due to physical aggression against police officers by some of the people protesting ... it was necessary to use direct coercive measures," Warsaw police wrote in a post on X. Polish interior minister Marcin Kierwinski said at least 23 protesters were detained after the violent confrontations. Local media footage showed several protesters forcing their way onto parliamentary grounds, before being subdued by police.

Tomasz Obszanski, a farmers' union leader and protest organiser told Reuters that police began blocking protesters from leaving as the demonstration ended. "Everything was peaceful and suddenly the police came out of nowhere, there were loud bangs, the police started using (tear) gas and simply provoking people leaving the protest," said Obszanski, leader of the NSZZ RI Solidarnosc union for individual farmers.

Why are farmers protesting in Poland?

Farmers across the European Union have been calling for changes to restrictions placed on them by the bloc's Green Deal plan to tackle climate change, and for the re-imposition of customs duties on imports of agricultural products from Ukraine that were waived after Russia's invasion. Obszanski said that the farmers were leaving Warsaw empty-handed after their request to meet with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk was turned down and warned of further measures.

"After what happened today, there will be a blockade of the entire country ... Poland will come to a standstill, because a Polish farmer will not allow himself to be treated in such a way, to be batonned," Obszanski said. The farmers marched through Warsaw last week and warned of more protests if Tusk's government did not listen to their demands.

Earlier, some protesters burned a coffin bearing a sign that read "farmer, lived 20 years, killed by the Green Deal" in the street in front of Tusk's office, blowing horns and holding Polish flags aloft before marching on parliament. Media footage showed tractors on the outskirts of Warsaw being stopped from entering, while farmers blocked roads elsewhere in the country.

The protesters argue that Ukrainian food products are driving down market prices and put Poland's agricultural sector in jeopardy. They also sought a withdrawal from the Green Deal, which includes plans that require farmers to reduce the excessive use of polluting chemicals to boost their crops.

What is Tusk doing?

The protest increased pressure on the government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk, a former president of the European Council who is strongly pro-EU and seeks to support Ukraine as it fights Russia's invasion. He faces a delicate balancing act, seeking to address farmers' concerns while also maintaining its staunch support for Kyiv in a year where it faces both local and European elections.

The Polish PM has said that market disruptions were not only caused by imports from Ukraine, but also from Russia and its ally Belarus. On Monday, he said Poland planned to ask the EU to ban imports of Russian and Belarusian agricultural products.

During a brief visit to Prague last week, Tusk said he could not rule out widening a national ban on imports of Ukrainian grains to other products if the European Union does not act to protect the bloc's markets, as Polish farmers escalated their protests against food imports from Ukraine and EU green rules. Poland extended a ban on Ukrainian grain imports last year.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | Poland: Far-right lawmaker sparks outrage by using fire extinguisher to douse Hanukkah candles in Parliament

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