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France: clashes at abandoned airport site

April 9, 2018

More than 2,000 police were tasked with evacuating around 100 squatters at an anarchist camp on the site of an abandonded airport. The protesters demanded the right to stay after creating an 'autonomous utopia.'

Protesters in Notre-Dame-des-Landes
Image: Reuters/S. Mahe

France's police for rural and suburban areas – the Gendarmerie – on Monday deployed nearly 2,500 officers toclear an anarchist camp in Notre-Dame-des-Landes near the western city of Nantes.

One gendarme was hurt in the eye with a flare as police clashed with around 100 squatters in the so-called ZAD or "zone to defend."

The militant activists — known as "zadistes" in France — set up camp in 2008. The site had been earmarked for a new airport nearly 50 years ago before the government finally dropped plans to build the controversial hub in January. 

President Emmanuel Macron argued that after he decided to scrap plans to build the airport, the squatters had to leave. But they refused. 

Read more: The tiny village leading France's anti-nuclear movement

Over the last 10 years, the eco-warriors, farmers and anti-capitalists, who had turned the area into a utopian experiment in autonomous living, put up makeshift buildings, which the government says have to go so the site can be redeveloped.

"Illegal constructions must be brought down for things to come back to normal in Notre-Dame-des-Landes," Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told Europe 1 radio, stressing that "order will be restored within a few weeks" and that people would not be arrested.

A masked protester in Notre-Dame-des-Landes
The activists had vowed to stay in the campImage: Reuters/S. Mahe

Model of sustainable farming

The activists vowed to stay put ahead of the evacuation operation, arguing that their camp was a model of sustainable farming in an area with unique flora and fauna.

Read more: Post-industrial agriculture: France's field-to-table approach on food

The idea for the "Grand Ouest" airport, which would have served the Atlantic coast, was first floated in the 1960s, but the project stalled until being revived in 2000. An existing inner-city airport in the region was too congested, supporters argued.

But critics said the new airport would have been too costly, environmentally damaging and that there was another under-utilized airport 110 km (70 miles) to the north, near Rennes in Brittany.

People cheering in Notre-Dame-des-Landes
Camp activists cheered President Macron's decision in January to scrap plans for the 'Grand Ouest' airport.Image: Reuters/S. Mahe

ng/rt (AFP, Reuters, AP)