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Brittany farmers set fire to government buildings in new French rural protest

media French Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll AFP/Joël Saget

The French government has sworn that farmers who set fire to government buildings on Friday night will be taken to court and punished, as farmers’ unions say the protest was a symptom of crisis hitting vegetable growers.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Saturday “energetically” condemned Friday evening’s attack on tax and social insurance offices and in the Brittany town of Morlaix.

“It is particularly shocking that firefighters were prevented from doing their job,” he stormed. “Legal action will be taken against the perpetrators.

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One of the buildings has been reduced to a shell and the other will be out of action for several days, according to local officials, after a group of farmers attacked and set fire to them.

Witnesses say they drove their tractors in front of fire engines in an apparently planned attempt to stop them putting out the fires and tipped artichokes into the firefighters’ path.

Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll also slammed the attack and called for calm, claiming that the government has tried to help farmers hit by the Russian embargo on European agricultural produce sparked by the Ukraine crisis.

The market for up artichokes and cauliflower markets has been affected by overproduction due to this year’s weather, he said.

But farmers’ unions and Morlaox’s mayor have defended the action.

“These farmers have been sounding the alarm over their situation for the last two weeks, even months,” Morlaix mayor Agnès LeBrun said on Saturday. “It’s not that unusual, a lot of French people are in the same situation. They are weighed down by social charges, by taxes, by debts. Farmers are not madmen, they are company bosses who are not being listened to.”

Farmers’ union FNSEA said the violence was a symptom of “exasperation” and warned that “tension is rising in the countryside”.

Brittany was the scene of violent protests that led the government to scrap a green tax on freight last year.

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