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Farmers clash with police as 30,000 protest EU subsidy cuts

SHARE Farmers clash with police as 30,000 protest EU subsidy cuts

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Hurling potatoes, cobblestones and even uprooted trees, over 30,000 farmers rallied Monday in Brussels to demand that European Union agriculture ministers shield them from farm subsidy cuts.

Farmers from across the EU's 15 nations held their biggest demonstration in the Belgian capital in over a quarter century.Police used tear gas, water cannons and batons to drive back groups of protesters who tried to force their way through the barbed-wire barricades. Fourteen protesters were arrested for wrecking cars and two police were lightly injured, officials said.

The agriculture ministers are considering cuts of up to 30 percent in guaranteed farm prices in order to pare down the European Union's $45.8 billion farm budget ahead of an EU summit in Bonn, Germany, next Monday.

Farm leaders insist the cuts would reduce farmers' incomes by as much as 20 percent, pushing many into bankruptcy and driving people away from the profession at an even faster rate. The number of farmers in Europe is already declining at 3 percent a year.

"I've been in farming all my life. I want to make sure there is a future," said Ramon de Arcos, 48, who left his tomato and olive farm in western Spain to attend the march. "Farming is the only thing we have in Extremadura."

Farmers, many waving black flags, set off firecrackers, sirens and horns as they marched towards the EU building. A few protesters tore up cobblestones and even pulled out traffic signs and trees in their attempt to break through the police cordon.

"We demand justice for farmers," said Luc Guyau, president of the COPA European farmers union, which organized the rally. "Whatever happens, we farmers must be guaranteed full compensation for income losses which we may suffer as a result of price cuts."

"The EU sells off farming," one banner read. "Without farmers, no future," read many others.

Farm demonstrations have been held in France for several weeks, and over the weekend thousands of farmers marched through the Spanish capital of Madrid to protest likely cuts in farm subsidies. A small demonstration of Italian farmers was held in Luxembourg on Monday, after they were barred from coming to Brussels with their tractors.

France, the, EU's biggest agricultural producer, is a key defender of farmer's interests. French Agriculture Minister Jean Glaveny said Monday there will be no farm deal this week without an agreement to cut into other EU subsidy programs within the EU's $100 billion annual budget.

Farmers have complained of belt-tightening throughout the 1990s and strongly resisted the last EU subsidy reform in 1992. EU agriculture represents about 7 million full-time jobs but that number has been dwindling fast.