By Mariah McCloskey
French activists fired a flare at a police helicopter and clashed with riot officers as authorities cleared out a protest camp erected nearly a decade ago to block construction of an airport. French police were trying to evict environmental activists from a wooded site where an airport was to be built in western France. Police used tear gas at the Notre-Dames-des-Landes site against hundreds of activists, who had built makeshift barricades and even set some ablaze.
According to ABCNews, the rioters injured eleven police officers and dismantled 16 ‘squats’ on the second day of the government’s evacuation operation at the site of Notre-Dame-des-Landes. Authorities said close to 350 people have been resisting the authorities’ evacuation operation. French police fired teargas and stun grenades, resulting in them being pelted with stones during a ‘dawn swoop’ to clear eco-activists from the site that had been planned as a new airport.
The Prime Minister, Édouard Philippe, who went to the Notre-Dames-des-Landes site, explained that “the State will not accept the reoccupation of the evacuated sites”, while recalling that the hand remained tense to those within the Zone to Defend (ZAD) who accept “the process of regularization,” reported France 24.
In the city a demonstration drew nearly 7,000 people in support of occupants of the ZAD, France 24 reported. The rally erupted into open confrontation after the protesters, holding banners reading ‘Stop violence,’ attempted to storm barricades erected by law enforcement officials. Riot police fired tear gas in response to rocks and stun grenades being thrown at them. The windows of several shops were smashed and trash bins were set on fire. Twelve protesters were arrested and a police officer was wounded. Colomb’s twitter denounced “unspeakable violence and damage to shops and street furniture that have been committed.”
According to a medical team set up at the activists’ camp, “since the beginning of the week, at least 148 people have been taken care of,” in both the protest and the riot. They include those who suffered injuries from stun grenades or developed neurological disorders in the squatter’s area in Notre-Dame-des-Landes.
According to Philippe, the squatters had been ordered to leave after they had succeeded in getting the airport project halted. French President Emmanuel Macron’s government in January abandoned plans for the airport, near the city of Nantes, after 50 years of debate, and gave squatters until spring to clear out. The government requisitioned the land from farmers for the airport, but is now offering to return the land to those who want it. “We want to put an end to a lawless zone,” the Interior Ministry, Gérard Collomb, said in an interview with Reuters.
The site in Notre-Dame-des-Landes had been squatted for years by opponents of the plan to build a $710 million airport which the government decided to drop in January. Plans for a “Great West” trans-Atlantic gateway to France and Europe were first considered in the 1960s and the Notre-Dame-des-Landes site was identified in 1967, but the project stalled until being revived in 2000. According to the National Review, supporters of the airport plan, designed to handle 4 million passengers a year initially, said it would have helped economic development in the Loire-Atlantique region. An old, inner-city airport 20 miles to the south was congested and a security risk, they said. But opponents said it was too costly, environmentally damaging, and that there was another underutilized airport 70 miles to the north. “Illegal constructions must be brought down for things to come back to normal in Notre-Dame-des-Landes,” Collomb told Europe 1 radio.