AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Thousands of Dutch farmers on tractors blocked traffic in and around The Hague on Wednesday in protest against what they say are attempts to blame them for nitrogen pollution.
Convoys of tractors set out in the early morning, first for the city of Utrecht and later to The Hague, causing long traffic jams across the country. More than 375 km (233 miles) of roads were blocked, according to drivers organisation ANWB.
It is the third time the farmers have mounted a day of protest, in a campaign launched after a court ruling in May found the Netherlands in violation of European emission rules.
Livestock farming is a leading cause of nitrogen pollution, along with construction and transportation. But farmers argue they have made substantial efforts to cut emissions and their role in providing food for the nation is under-appreciated.
“Last year you didn’t hear anything about nitrogen, and now suddenly it’s a mortal question,” farmer Micha Bouwer of the Farmers Defence Force told state broadcaster NOS.
“These are all people in the city who have two plants on their balcony and say ‘nature is suffering’.”
Although no concrete steps against the farmers have been announced, one political party has suggested the Netherlands reduce the number of live animals it produces. The suggestion provoked an outcry from farming groups.
Police shut a highway into The Hague during the morning, but could not prevent hundreds of farmers driving their tractors into the city centre – defying orders to park their vehicles at the city limits and use available buses to reach their demonstration.
The farmers’ original plan had been to use their tractors to occupy the Binnenhof in The Hague, which is the seat of the Dutch parliament.
But authorities declared the Binnenhof off-limits and called in military support to place large vehicles across several roads, blocking the main routes toward the central square.
ANWB said roads around Utrecht were especially affected by the protest. A government environmental institute, that farmers say is responsible for publishing misinformation about nitrogen emissions, is located in Utrecht.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling and Bart Meijer; Editing by Karishma Singh, William Maclean)