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Farmers bring reform protest to Paris

PARIS (AP) — A "go-slow" protest by farmers on roads around Paris flopped Thursday when police blocked access to the major highways into and out of the capital.

Most traffic flowed smoothly despite the bid to tie up traffic to protest a feared loss of subsidies by cereal growers. The autumn protest season in France has brought a particularly bumper crop of demonstrations this year. Hardly a day goes by without some group — truck drivers, students, farmers, trade unionists — marching about issues ranging from jobs to taxes and pensions.

Much of this is business as usual of course in a country proud of its rebellious streak. But with unemployment edging ever higher and the economy shrinking again, the recent protests have taken on a nastier tinge — jeering the president during a moment of silence to honor First World War dead, for example, and smashing toll-collection apparatus on highways.

A spokesman for one of the farmers' organizations taking part in the protest said farmers will keep up their actions until Dec. 10, when the planned European Union agricultural reform is signed. Farmers fear the reform will lead to a loss of their subsidies.

The transportation ministry said a fireman on his way to work was killed when he crashed into a truck that was stuck in the blockade. The protest came days after truckers staged a go-slow protest on roads around France in opposition to a proposed environmental tax on heavy loads. The government suspended the tax but protest organizers want it canceled entirely.

Earlier this month, protesters donning the red caps that have come to symbolize the anti-tax movement in the largely agricultural western Brittany region briefly disrupted an Armistice Day commemoration on Paris' Champs Elysees. During a wreath-laying ceremony by massively unpopular President Francois Hollande, demonstrators loudly jeered and called for his resignation.

France's budget minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, has claimed that the widening tax protests were drawing strength from far-right movements. "To exit the crisis our country has to let the fever recede and return to the path of reason," he wrote in an opinion piece in daily newspaper Le Monde last week.

Hollande, the Socialist president whose approval rating has sunk to a 50-year record low around 20 percent, has come under increasing fire. Unemployment recently hit 11.1 percent, with joblessness for those under age 25 rising to 26.1 percent in September.

Earlier this month ratings agency Standard & Poor's cut France's credit rating to AA from AA+, saying Hollande's reform program was likely "insufficient to significantly unlock France's economic growth potential."

The French economy shrank 0.1 percent in the third quarter, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development forecasts it will barely grow by 1 percent over 2014-2015.

Associated Press reporter Chris Den Hond contributed to this article.

Follow Greg Keller on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Greg_Keller

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