Anger at wage stagnation, regulation and other problems is bubbling to the surface at protests across France.
Escalating demonstrations by French farmers against low wages and other grievances were hit by tragedy Tuesday when a woman was killed and her husband and daughter injured in a traffic collision at a protest barricade.
A car ploughed into straw bales that demonstrators had placed across a road, hitting the three people before it came to a stop against a tractor’s semi-trailer, prosecutor Olivier Mouysset said in a statement.
The fatal crash in the Ariège region of southwestern France represented a dramatic turn for the growing protest movement among French farmers, who are angry at what they consider excessive regulation, mounting costs, and other problems.
Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, newly installed by Macron in a government reshuffle this month, posted Tuesday on social media that “being a farmer means working without respite. It’s working for us, for the French. We are and will remain at their side.”
The woman hit and killed by a car was a farmer, Attal said.
“All our farmers are in mourning. Our nation is shocked,” he added.
The car was carrying three people when it rammed into the barricade of straw bales in the Ariège town of Pamiers, the prosecutor said in his statement.
The woman killed in the pre-dawn collision was in her thirties, the statement said. Her husband in his forties was seriously injured and hospitalised and their 14-year-old daughter was in “worrying” condition, requiring her to be helicoptered for hospital treatment, the prosecutor said without giving more details about her injuries.
The statement said the collision did not appear to be intentional. Police detained the three occupants of the car for questioning.
The months of demonstrations have become increasingly vigorous in recent weeks. Protesters have mounted traffic barricades and dumped of foul-smelling agricultural waste outside government offices, while farmers have also been turning road signs upside down.
France is one of Europe’s agricultural powerhouses, with powerful farming lobbies but also deep discontent among farmers who say they struggle to make ends meet despite working long hours to feed the country and boost its exports with their produce.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s government has been working to assuage farmers’ concerns before their anger blows up into a wider movement, like the yellow vest protests against economic injustice in 2019 that dented Macron’s popularity and saw frequent violence between protesters and riot police.