Roundup: Dutch farmers block highways as gov't mediator urges dialogue

THE HAGUE, July 27 (Xinhua) -- Protests against the Dutch government's nitrogen policy resumed on Wednesday as farmers laid piles of sand, straw bales, manure and rubble on a number of highways in the Netherlands, causing huge delays on the roads.

In the meantime, former deputy prime minister Johan Remkes, who was appointed by the government as a mediator in early July, has invited parties relevant to the ongoing dispute over the nitrogen policy to talk with the cabinet in August.

In response to the farmers' actions, Dutch authorities, including the police and the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, called on the farmers to stop taking actions that create dangerous situations.

"Demonstrating is a fundamental right and we understand that you want to send a signal," the authorities said in a statement. "But these actions seriously endanger road safety and can lead to life-threatening situations for road users. It can cause accidents and fires, and can have far-reaching consequences, especially with this drought."

One accident occurred at one of the blockades on Wednesday morning, when a car drove into a blockade near Meppel in the northeastern province of Drenthe. No one got injured.

The authorities also pointed out that the blockades hinder emergency services and can cause damage to the road. "By deliberately setting fire to straw bales, dumping waste, including materials containing asbestos and spreading manure, they cause damage and unsafe situations," said the statement.

Member of Parliament Caroline van der Plas, frontwoman of the farmers party BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB), also asked the farmers to stop their dangerous actions.

"I support all protests that are within the law," Van der Plas wrote on Twitter. "I understand farmers' emotions very well and I support their struggle. However, I would like to call on farmers who cause fires and blockades and who carry out actions that endanger people and the environment to stop doing so."

The protesting farmers do not agree with the planned nitrogen reduction policy of the government. The consequence of the proposed measures is that farmers have to consider how to continue with their business. The ministry sees three options for the farmers: to make further steps in sustainability, to relocate or to quit, which is unacceptable for the farmers.

On June 10 this year, Minister of Nature and Nitrogen Policy Christianne Van der Wal unveiled details of the government's nitrogen policy. The Netherlands needs far-reaching measures when it comes to improving nature, climate and water quality, and achieving the indicative nitrogen reduction targets, especially for agriculture, according to the government's policy.

It requires agricultural entrepreneurs to accelerate the transition to circular agriculture by 2030, according to the policy.

The farmers' protest started in October 2019 as a move against proposed plans to limit livestock farming in order to solve the nitrogen crisis. The protests have been generally peaceful, but became more violent recently after the minister made the plans concrete in June this year.

In early July, the government appointed Remkes as mediator to calm down the situation. Remkes announced on Tuesday that he had sent a letter of invitation to a wide number of parties to discuss the details of the tasks for nature, nitrogen, climate, water and the future of Dutch agriculture with the cabinet in August.

Remkes emphasized in the letter to agricultural and nature organizations and other relevant parties, such as banks and feed manufacturers, that they should jointly explore where opportunities lie.

"I have great appreciation for the Dutch agricultural sector," Remkes said. "I see the conversations as a turning point: coming out of the impasse together. The cabinet has assured me that there is room and joint solutions are possible."

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