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Brittany protests against eco tax

Road blocked with tonnes of cabbages in demonstrations against HGV pollution tax

UP TO one thousand people took part in protests against a planned ‘eco-tax’, blocking a major road in Brittany for 48 hours - with 900 tonnes of cabbages.

The protestors, a mixture of farmers, lorry drivers and other business people, are protesting against a tax on HGVs, due to enter into force on January 1.

One protestor was injured during scuffles with police over the weekend.

They have been dubbed the Bonnets Rouges, after organisers handed out red headwear, drawing comparisons to a 17th century revolt of peasants in Brittany against tax rises.

A new demonstration is planned for November 2.

The eco-tax is designed to push the transport of goods off French public roads and on to boats and rail.

It applies to all HGVs above 3.5 tonnes, from any nation, travelling through France on public, non-paying, roads. It will be calculated on the distance travelled and the age of the vehicle, and measured using satellites and tracking devices installed in the lorries.

A poll by Ifop found that 74% of people in Brittany were opposed to the tax. The region is heavily dependent on transport as part of its food and agriculture industry, a substantial part of the Breton economy. It also has no private toll roads.

While tractors and other farming vehicles are exempt, HGVs transporting food will be hit. Although the milk sector has managed to exempt vehicles collecting milk from different farms.

“Everything here is based on agriculture and the food industry and everyone feels concerned,” Pierrick Henry, protester and owner of a charcuterie business, told Reuters.

“It feels like a powder keg ready to explode,” he added.

The president of France’s main farming union, the FNSEA, Xavier Beulin, has demanded a delay of two years before implementing the tax, to allow the sector to recover from the financial crisis.

Over the weekend, the finance minister Pierre Moscovici explained that the tax had been passed unanimously under the Sarkozy government, and would still come into force in January.

However, agriculture minister Stéphene le Foll said the government was examining areas, such as increasing the discount for HGVs based in Brittany (the region already receives a 50% discount, compared to 30% for Aquitaine and the Midi-Pyrénées) and other exemptions.

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