THE French government today sent armored vehicles to protect a food market in Parisin a sign of escalating tensions as farmers block highways in France and Belgium and mobilizations spread to other European countries.

Spanish and Italian farmers say they too are joining forces with the protest movement, which is also hitting Germany and aims to pressure governments to loosen environmental rules and protect them from rising costs and cheap imports.

With all eyes on the summit of European leaders, scheduled for Thursday, the European Commission has proposed limiting imports of agricultural products from Ukraine and relaxing some “green” rules.

However, this is unlikely to be seen as enough to quell the anger of farmers, who say they will continue blocking roads and ports until their demands are met.

“What is happening now is the accumulation of rules that you initially accept … until the situation becomes too much,” said Arnaud Rousseau, head of France’s powerful trade union federation FNSEA.

Although the protests have been largely peaceful so far, although French farmers have thrown liquid manure on municipal buildings and set car tires on fire, police today arrested 18 people.

Those arrested were driving tractors and attempting to block the food market at Runzis in Paris, a hub for producers in France and beyond, according to a police source. For now, the police have let the farmers set up roadblocks without intervening.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanen has warned that while farmers’ protests on highways will be tolerated, police will not allow farmers to block airports or the Runzis market.

According to him, there are about 100 blocks in total.

“The End of Civilization”

French broadcaster BFM TV broadcast footage from an area near the Loire River where police are stopping tractors, preventing them from approaching Paris. In addition, he showed images of tractors pulling off roads and going through fields to avoid police forces.

Farmers complain that they are not adequately compensated, are “suffocated” by taxes and environmental regulations and face unfair competition from abroad.

“If the situation continues like this, the end of the agricultural sector will mean the end of civilization,” said 28-year-old Belgian farmer Adelan Desmestes, blaming excessive regulations and bureaucracy.

In Belgium, farmers blocked access to roads to the port of Zeebrugge for a second day. An organizer of the protests, who gave only his first name, Bruno, said more than 100 tractors are participating in the blockade.

A spokesman for the port of Antwerp said farmers have also started blocking trucks from leaving and entering the port of Antwerp, Europe’s second largest port.

A roadblock has also been set up on a major highway in Belgium.

In Italy, farmers blocked traffic with hundreds of tractors at highway entrances and exits near Milan, Tuscany and other areas in recent days.

Farmers’ union Coldiretti said more than 1,000 of its members would travel to Brussels to take part in a demonstration planned for tomorrow outside the European Parliament.