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Farmers protest in Brussels as EU summit begins

Farmers have blocked roads leading to a European Union summit in Brussels on Thursday, using some 1,000 tractors, Belgian police said.

A police spokesman told the French AFP news agency that "there are 1,000 tractors or agricultural machinery."

Angry farmers are complaining about taxes, rising costs, cheap imports, rules and bureaucracy. They are hoping their protests will make their voices heard at the summit.

What happened at the protests?

Riot police stood guard behind barriers where EU leaders are meeting, only a few blocks away from the European Parliament building surrounded by tractors.

Some protesting farmers threw eggs at the parliament building, while others set off fireworks and started fires. Police responded by using water cannons, Belgian media reported.

One tractor displayed a banner saying: "If you love the earth, support those who manage it." Another banner read: "No farmers, no food."

DW's Christine Mhundwa was at the European Council building as leaders arrived for the special summit. She reported seeing the some 1,000 tractors, adding that they had stayed overnight.

Why are farmers protesting?

Farmers argue their pay is inadequate and that taxes and green rules are suffocating them, as they face unfair competition from abroad.

"They've come to deliver a message to EU leaders and that is that their business is not sustainable. Farmers say they're experiencing price increases — the cost of their business has gone up by as much as €30,000 (roughly $32,400) per annum," DW's Mhundwa said, pointing to the rising prices of fertilizer, electricity and fuel.

Mhundwa said farmers were also concerned about "ambitious" targets set by the EU to cut carbon emissions, which have a direct impact on how they can operate.

"They've come to send a message to say this is difficult," the DW correspondent said. She added that the EU's generous agricultural subsidies tend to benefit larger farmers, whereas it is the smaller farmers who are protesting in Brussels.

Farmers protest across Europe

Pressure has prompted the European Commission to propose limiting farm imports from Ukraine and loosening some environmental regulations on fallow lands, in an effort to appease the angry farmers. Those protesting say it is still insufficient.

Farmers have held crippling protests over the past few weeks in EU member-states including France, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Germany.

Their movement comes as the bloc braces for elections over the summer, with the far right making some gains.

rmt/rt (AFP, AP, Reuters)