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Dutch farmers clog roads on way to anti-government protest

The Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) ??" Thousands of farmers drove their tractors along roads and highways across the Netherlands, snarling morning traffic as they headed for a mass protest against the Dutch government's plans to rein in emissions of nitrogen oxide and ammonia.

The national infrastructure authority urged motorists to delay travel as slow-moving convoys of tractors defied appeals not to use highways as they drove toward the central Netherlands, where a farmer in the agricultural village of Stroe was hosting the protest expected to draw thousands of farmers.

In The Hague, near the Dutch parliament, a few dozen farmers and their supporters, some wearing T-shirts with the text "No farmers, no food," gathered for a breakfast early Wednesday before heading to the protest.

"This is where the rules are made," said dairy farmer Jaap Zegwaard, who parked his tractor on the edge of a park in the city. "I was asked to come here and provide breakfast so we can show we are food producers, not pollution producers."

Calling it an "unavoidable transition," the government earlier this month mandated reductions in emissions of up to 70% in many places close to protected nature areas and as high as 95% in other places.

The ruling coalition earmarked an extra 24.3 billion euros ($25.6 billion) to finance changes that will likely make many farmers drastically reduce their number of livestock or to get rid of them altogether.

The plans, which have to be carried out by provincial governments, have been opposed even by members of Prime Minister Mark Rutte's own party and other members of his coalition.

Farming is a key sector in the Dutch economy, with exports worth nearly 105 billion euros last year. But it comes at a cost of producing of polluting gases, despite farmers taking steps to reduce emissions.

Zegwaard said farmers were prepared to talk about how to reduce emissions.

"Now the agricultural sector is dismissed as a major polluter and that is not right," he said.

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