French police and protesters clash over evacuation of abandoned airport site

By Rachel Dobbs

French police clashed with protesters early this morning as they attempted to clear the site of a halted airport project.

Using teargas and stun grenades, around 2,500 police took part in the evacuation in Notre-Dame-des-Landes in Western France.

The site has been squatted on for years by people protesting against government plans to build a new €580 million airport.

The planned Aéroport du Grand Ouest was intended to replace Nantes Atlantique Airport as the primary airport for Nantes, and to be a transatlantic gateway for western France.

Proponents said that the project would handle four million passengers a year at first, rising to nine million by 2050, and would have boosted economic development in the Loire-Atlantique region.

The project was approved in February 2008, with construction meant to start in 2014 and a projected opening in 2017. The construction company Vinci was awarded initial contracts.

However, the plans met with fierce opposition, led by the Greens, with claims that the airport would be environmentally damaging and too expensive.

Various activist groups moved onto the site and protest camps remained for almost a decade. Construction plans were eventually shelved in January of this year.

The government then ordered squatters and activists to leave, saying that they had accomplished their goal and that illegal constructions on the site must be taken down.

Around 100 people stayed – a combination of eco-activists, farmers and anarchists – seeking to turn the site into a “space of social, environmental and agricultural experimentation.”

As the police moved in this morning, these protesters threw stones and set fire to barricades to try to prevent the evacuation.

One protester was arrested and a police office was injured in the eye with a flare.

Vinci has said it is ready to discuss compensation from the government for the losses it sustained by not being able to fulfil the contracts for the airport.

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