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Violent demonstrations in Montpellier

Protesters clashed violently with police in Montpellier as up to 8,000 wine growers demonstrated against the latest government measures.

As police attempted to disperse the crowd skirmishes broke out, as wine growers from the Languedoc-Roussillon and the southern Rhône turned out yesterday in Montpellier to protest against the latest government measures and show solidarity in the face of escalating economic hardship.

The €70 million rescue plan tabled by the minister of agriculture Dominique Bussereau has been widely criticised for not going far enough to support struggling French vignerons.

Philippe Vergnes, representing the event organisers and president of one of the growers unions in the Aude, called on the government to ‘pay up so we can get over the worst. This region has given a lot in the past, it’s time to give something back to small producers.’

He added, ‘If we’re guilty of anything, then it’s because there are too many of us. If market forces are to take over, help those get out of the business, if they want to, and those who wish to stay, roll up their sleeves and get out of this mess.’

The supermarket chains were also slammed as ‘the biggest racket going,’ along with the government’s anti-alcohol measures: ‘This attack on consumption has lead to the worst crisis in history.’

Growers present were also demanding the right to publicise the positive aspects of moderate wine consumption. A delegation from the Languedoc-Roussillon is due to meet the minister of agriculture on 22 March.

The demonstration started peacefully in Place Peyrou by the Arc de Triomphe in Montpellier, where speeches were held before the march down the hill to the station and back up through La Comédie.

But by the time the throng reached the town hall – armed with placards sporting slogans such as ‘Chirac – what a let-down’ and ‘Get to work Bussereau’ – skirmishes with police had broken out.

Demonstrators threw bottles, burning dustbins and firecrackers, while riot police and gendarmes responded with tear gas and a counter-charge.

Written by Richard James

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