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Farmers bring central Dublin to a halt with tractor protest

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Farmers shut down busy parts of central Dublin for a second successive day on Wednesday by parking dozens of tractors in the streets to protest against low beef prices and climate change initiatives they say are unfair.

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The farmers arrived on tractors from all over the country on Tuesday for a planned protest in a cordoned off area but instead parked their vehicles in the very center of the city and refused to leave until the agriculture minister met them.

Some slept in their vehicles overnight, many parked outside the luxury Shelbourne Hotel on the corner of St. Stephen’s Green, one of the main bus routes into the city.

Police warned commuters that a number of the city’s main thoroughfares, including Kildare Street, the seat of parliament, were closed to traffic. The city’s bus operator told passengers to expect delays on all routes.

“We’ll sit here for many more nights if we have to but this has got to stop and we have to start getting paid for our produce,” said Nicholas Hughes, a 53-year-old dairy farmer from Moylough in County Galway who stayed awake all night in his tractor.

“It’s the only thing we can do, we’re gone if we don’t do this. We can’t stay producing food below the cost of production and we can’t keep getting blamed for climate change. This is about the death of rural Ireland, it’s dying on its feet as we speak.”

The protest was similar to one staged on Wednesday by French farmers in Paris, although the events were not coordinated.

A weeks-long dispute between Irish farmers and processors over beef prices cut production and caused a wave of temporary layoffs earlier this year before a tentative agreement brokered by the government lifted pickets at meat factories by a grassroots group of farmers.

Some of the farmers protesting on Wednesday also complained about climate change measures, including plans for carbon tax increases. Hughes said sentiment on the issue in Ireland amounted to “nothing but farmer bashing”.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said he met demonstrators on the street and in his office, and he hoped that could clear the blockage in the city. Protesters said they wanted him to sit down with a delegation from the group.

Some protesters returned to their farms on Tuesday night, with the remainder leaving the city center on Wednesday afternoon escorted by police outriders.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Peter Graff and Giles Elgood