Tue, Apr 10, 2018 - Page 7 News List

France evicts squatters resisting airport

Reuters, NOTRE-DAME-DES-LANDES, France

French police fired tear gas and stun grenades as they were pelted with stones during a dawn swoop to clear environmental campaigners and anarchists from a site in western France that has been planned as a new airport.

The site in Notre-Dame-des-Landes has been squatted for years by opponents of the plan to build a 580 million euro (US$712 million) airport, which the government decided to drop in January, telling the protesters to clear out by spring.

However, some of the motley group of eco-warriors, farmers and anti-capitalists, who had turned the area into a utopian experiment in autonomous living, demanded the right to stay put. About 100 were left.

In a statement, the protesters expressed anger over the destruction of their huts and shelters, vowing that they would not leave.

About 2,500 police took part in the evacuation, which authorities said started at 6am. Police already blocked surrounding roads as early at 3:30am, while protesters set fire to barricades and threw Molotov cocktails at the security forces, a reporter said.

One police officer sustained an eye injury and a protester was arrested, a police official said, adding that the clashes were sporadic and relatively minor.

“We want to put an end to a lawless zone,” the French Ministry of the Interior said in a statement.

“Illegal constructions must be brought down for things to come back to normal in Notre-Dame-des-Landes,” French Minister of the Interior Gerard Collomb told Europe 1 radio.

Plans for a “Great West” transatlantic 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.

Supporters of the airport plan, designed to handle 4 million passengers each year initially, said it would have helped economic development in the Loire-Atlantique region.

An old, inner-city airport 30km to the south was congested and a security risk, they said.

However, opponents said it was too costly and environmentally damaging, and that there was another underutilised airport 110km to the north, near Rennes in Brittany.

Construction giant Vinci has said that it is ready to discuss government compensation for the loss of its contract to develop Notre-Dame-des-Landes.

STRIKES

In other developments, about 80 percent of French high-speed trains yesterday stood still as unions entered the fourth day of three months of periodic rolling strikes, have vowed to continue until at least June 28, unless the government backs down on its reform plan for the debt-laden French National Railway Corp (SNCF).

Just one in five high-speed trains were running and one in six on other mainline routes, while two-thirds of regional trains were cancelled. About 20 percent of Eurostar trains in and out of London have also been cancelled.

SNCF chief Guillaume Pepy told BFM television that the action has so far caused losses of about 20 million euros per strike day, although disruptions often spill into non-strike days.

Yesterday’s strike was scheduled to end at 8pm before resuming for another two-day stoppage on Friday.

Additional reporting by AFP and AP

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