FARMERS FLEX THEIR MUSCLES IN BRUSSELS; Street Battles Rage as Europe's Agricultural Industry Vents Its Anger at EU Plans

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HUNDREDS of Irish farmers were caught up in violent clashes yesterday as Europe's agricultural sector went on the offensive.

More than 40,000 furious farmers from across Europe descended on Brussels to protest at fresh plans being considered by top EU ministers.

Just over 200 Irish protesters made the long trip to express their anger at the so-called Agenda 2000 plan.

Irish Farming Association officials fear that 70,000 jobs in rural Ireland are at stake if the proposed EU cuts are approved.

Yesterday as the huge group of farmers snaked their way through the Belgian capital violence erupted.

Around 5,000 Belgian police in riot gear confronted the angry protesters.

With the path of the eight-hour protest consistently blocked by police and barbed wire barricades young farmers clashed with the security forces.

With the rally organised in alphabetical order, the small Irish contingent was sandwiched by huge groups of volatile protesters from Germany and France when trouble broke out.

Approximately, 19,000 French and 10,000 Germans made the short trip to vent their fury.

But it was a group of young Belgian farmers who sparked a street battle when they ripped down a large metal sign and attempted to ram their way through a side door into EU headquarters.

When they failed, the metal sign was hurled over a police barricade flooring two policemen.

As riot squads responded with tear gas and water cannons, the Belgian protesters again tried to ram their way through the cordon and gain access to a road leading to the buildings.

A 15 ft tree was torn up by its roots and used as a battering ram in a vain attempt to break through the ring of steel.

Other protesters, close to the IFA contingent, broke away from the main group and began hurling stones, bottles, sticks and even fire crackers at police lines.

Charges to break up the trouble-makers with truncheons missed the Irish farmers by just yards. …