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Published:  23 July, 2008

French riot police fired tear gas on Wednesday 16 January during a sometimes violent demonstration by several thousand wine industry workers protesting against slumping prices, according to a Reuters report. A Reuters photographer said police used the tear gas to disperse protesters in the southern town of Bziers when they tried to storm a wine company. Stones were also thrown as scuffles broke out between the police and protesters. Producers of lower-grade vin de table and vin de pays wines in southern France organised the protest, to demand the Government do more to tackle falling prices and wine surpluses in the face of the New World's increased market share. Police said around 3,500 people took part in the demonstration. Last September, the Government unveiled a series of measures to cut the existing surplus of French wine. It also produced a longer-term restructuring plan to cut capacity, increase quality and push commercialisation and promotion efforts. Most vineyards have seen a staggering drop in sales of 30% over the past 15 months and of at least 50% of their cash flow,' said a statement from the Union for Wine Producers of the Languedoc-Roussillon. New World countries such as Australia have made inroads into France itself by encouraging people to shun the country's lower-grade products. The phenomenon has not had much effect on top-quality producers in Bordeaux and Burgundy, who are still able to charge premiums for their coveted products. Southern wine growers, however, want the Government to waive their social contributions and land taxes for 2002, clamp down on producers charging low, predatory', prices and encourage the French to drink wine for health reasons. Farm Minister Jean Glavany, keen to avoid a public relations mishap just months before presidential and legislative elections, denied the Government was deaf to their plight. I do not underestimate the graveness of this crisis The measures I announced in September are being put in place,' he told a hastily convened meeting with reporters in Paris. Glavany said e110 million was spent last year in aid to the industry - reducing the number of vineyards and improving wine quality - and in distilling unwanted wine for use in other products.