PARIS, Feb 24 — Farmers drove tractors into central Paris yesterday to bring fresh pressure on President Emmanuel Macron, who promised them a meeting to discuss their grievances but then cancelled the event.

French farmers have been part of a Europe-wide movement against environmental rules and competition from cheap imports from outside the European Union, and to protest low incomes.

They have demanded a response from the government by the time the popular national agricultural fair, the Salon de l’Agriculture, opens today in Paris.

“The idea was to add a little bit of pressure before the fair opens,” said Damien Greffin, a cereal farmer and Paris region chief of the main farmers’ union FNSEA.

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Farmers staged nationwide protests last month until the government promised reforms.

But Prime Minister Gabriel Attal failed to placate protesters with new measures announced Wednesday, and all sights are now on Macron, who is scheduled to visit the annual agriculture fair today.

On Thursday, Macron said he would hold a debate there involving “all actors in the agriculture world” to “outline the future” of the sector.

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But the initiative got off to a rocky start when Macron included the radical ecology group Soulevements de la Terre (“Uprisings of the Earth”), which the interior minister recently tried to have banned after calling them “eco-terrorists”.

After protests from farming unions, opposition politicians and even from within the government, the Soulevements group was uninvited, with Macron’s office saying there had been “an error”.

But the damage was done, with FNSEA boss Arnaud Rousseau calling Macron’s initiative “cynical” and saying he would not be part of “something that doesn’t allow dialogue in good conditions”.

Faced with the boycott call, Macron cancelled the event altogether, his office said yesterday, adding that he would meet instead with farmers’ unions before opening the fair today.

Attal had promised Wednesday to elevate agriculture “to the status of a fundamental national interest”, outlining an agriculture bill designed to address farmers’ grievances.

But farmers have continued to block roads, set fire to tyres and lay siege to supermarkets, saying they needed more.

Authorities are finding the farmers’ movement “hard to control” in some parts of the country, a police source told AFP.

Around 30 tractors entered central Paris yesterday morning heading for Les Invalides, an esplanade near the French parliament. They started to leave in the afternoon, as requested by the authorities.

A second convoy entered Paris later and set up camp near the agriculture fair site in the southwest of the capital.

The FNSEA acknowledged that this year’s fair — a key annual event for farmers, the public and politicians — would be “eminently political” but said it would hopefully also be a “time of celebration”. — AFP