THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) – Backing up traffic for the second time in as many weeks, Dutch farmers driving tractors staged a nationwide protest Wednesday over the government’s attempt to lower emissions by limiting the number of farm animals.
At least seven people were arrested during the multi-city protest as an estimated 3,000 farmers demanded a change in nitrogen emission regulations and called for the government to listen to them.
Wednesday’s protest started at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, or RIVM, in Bilthoven, a small town in the center of the country. The RIVM is the agency responsible for the environmental calculations used to assess emissions, which the farmers claim are incorrect.
Farmers began demonstrating two weeks ago, following suggestions from politicians that they would need to reduce the amount of livestock to meet European Union emissions standards. Farmers also staged local protests on Monday, with one group bashing in the door of the city hall in Groningen with a tractor.
Jeroen van Maanen, a member of the Farmers Defense Force, which organized the protest, told the crowd of 3,000, “A decision based on lies, assumptions, and emotions is being made that drives the entire agricultural sector closer to the brink of collapse.”
The RIVM disputes this. Its director, Hans Brug, addressed the farmers as well.
“The calculations are made as carefully and robustly as possible,” he said before being escorted away by the police. He is now under police protection because threats have been made against his life.
The protesters had originally wanted to gather in front of RIVM headquarters but had to be moved to a nearby sports field due to safety concerns.
Following that demonstration, the farmers drove their tractors to The Hague, where they again protested on the Malieveld, a field in the center of the city where protests often occur. By then, the crowd swelled to 20,000.
Protesters were again told that they couldn’t park their vehicles on the field, which they ignored. An estimated 8,000 tractors were parked on the field by the afternoon.
The farmers also ignored other public safety regulations, shutting down traffic on highways and driving on tram tracks in the city.
“It was not safe enough for us to stand there,” a police spokesperson said, referring to an incident where tractors drove through a police barricade on a highway outside The Hague. The city requested assistance from the army to block streets and help with crowd control.
Farmers also disregarded orders not to protest in front of the Binnenhof, the complex with the Dutch parliament building.
“We see demonstrating farmers trying to come to the Binnenhof. I urge everyone to adhere to the agreements made. Do not go to the Binnenhof,” Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus said in a tweet.
Protesters on the Malieveld were excited by the turnout. One man called it “spectacular.”
Another farmer, Wissel Hoekstra, said, “We are not supported by the government. They need to be realistic in their demands. I hope they will listen to us after today.”
Speeches started late in the afternoon. The crowd gathered in the rain to hear Thierry Baudet, leader of the far-right Forum for Democracy party, who said farmers in the Netherlands had been abandoned. Sieta van Keimpema of the Farmers Defense Force agreed, shouting “shame” for the behavior of the government.
It was known that there would be a surprise guest, who turned out to be far-right politician Geert Wilders. Wilders had spent his morning in court, facing charges of inciting racial hatred from a 2014 incident. He opened his speech by asking the crowd if they wanted “more or fewer nitrogen regulations.”
He asked a nearly identical question five years, but rather than regulations, he asked a crowd of supporters if they wanted more or fewer Moroccan immigrants. That question is what landed him in court.
Protest organizers wished the crowd a safe trip back home but many opted to stay in The Hague. Farmers planned an after-party and many planned to spend the night in the city.
The evening rush hour included delays around the city and a nearby Cirque du Soleil event was canceled.