Conflicts & War

Police, protesters clash at water project site in western France

Paris, Mar 25 (EFE).- French police used tear gas, water cannon, and stun grenades Saturday to break up an unauthorized protest at the construction site of a water reservoir that forms part of an irrigation plan in the western region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine.

While district prefect Emmanuelle Dubee put the number of demonstrators at 6,000, the leftist La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party said that nearly 30,000 people turned out for the event in the town of Sainte-Soline.

Authorities said that some 1,000 hooded militants armed with explosives, machetes, knives, and other weapons “infiltrated” the protest.

Without offering evidence, they said that some of the militants came from outside France.

The large artificial reservoirs are the government’s response to worsening drought in the agricultural region, but critics say the project is environmentally harmful and intended primarily to benefit large farms Protesters gathered Saturday on the field of a farmer who shares their opposition to the reservoir plan.

The crowd, which included members of parliament, subsequently began moving toward the construction site, where some 3,200 police were deployed along with barricades.

Hooded protesters in the vanguard hurled fireworks and projectiles at the police lines and several police vehicles were set on fire with Molotov cocktails.

The bulk of the demonstrators then withdrew to a nearby field.

Seven protesters and 24 police officers were hurt, according to Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who said that one demonstrator and one office suffered critical, but non-life-threatening injuries.

Eight La France Insoumise lawmakers who were at the scene said that “numerous” protesters were seriously hurt and accused the “so-called forces of order” of delaying the evacuation of the wounded.

Many of the slogans at the demonstration in Sainte-Soline denounced President Emmanuel Macron’s recent overhaul of the pension system, whose centerpiece is raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.

Macron’s government rammed the bill through parliament this week without allowing debate on proposed amendments despite months of massive protests against the plan.

The passage of the bill sparked more demonstrations and organized labor has called for a 10th nationwide mobilization next Tuesday.

The pension protests have witnessed numerous confrontations between demonstrators and police, who have been caught on camera beating protesters.

Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for Human Rights, said that French police are guilty of “excessive use of force” in their response to the protests. EFE lmpg/dr

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