France: 20,000 protest Loire Valley airport

| 12th January 2016
Protestors on the Pont Cheviré last weekend (9th January 2016) to protest the proposed Notre Dame Des Landes airport. Photo: Alternatiba Paris vis Twitter - @alternatiba75.
Protestors on the Pont Cheviré last weekend (9th January 2016) to protest the proposed Notre Dame Des Landes airport. Photo: Alternatiba Paris vis Twitter - @alternatiba75.
A huge march of over 20,000 people including local farmers last weekend marked the biggest protest yet against a new international airport in France's Loire Valley. The peaceful occupation of a bridge was later attacked by riot police with tear gas and water cannon.
The blockade of Pont Cheviré was disbanded following negotiations with the police before midnight. However tear gas and water cannon were then used on protestors, after the withdrawal had already been agreed.

A mass occupation of 400 tractors, 1,000 cyclists and 20,000 marchers took place this weekend on the Nantes ring road to protest the Notre-Dame-Des-Landes (NDDL) proposed airport, and support the ongoing ZAD (Zone a Defendre) occupation.

A smaller group of around 500 protesters later blockaded the Pont Cheviré (Cheviré Bridge) across the Loire, arguing that building a new international airport would be a climate crime, adding to and encouraging flight carbon emissions.

It would also turn productive agricultural land into sterile fields, tarmac and terminals, they say, while endangering biodiversity and the habitat of 130 protected species.

Surveys of the site have identified at least five legally protected species that have not been taken into account by the project records made available to the investigation and related prefectural orders.

The day of action was called for 9th January after a trial on 10th December, aimed at evicting the historical inhabitants and small farmers, was adjourned until tomorrow, 13th January. The aim is to resume work on the airport in early 2016.

The case is being prosecuted by lawyers for Vinci, the French construction firm with the contract to build the airport. The court ruling being sought is for expulsion of the residents of three farms and four houses from expropriated land. They are also seeking punitive damages of €200 per day for each case of non-compliance.

There has been opposition to the airports for many years. The project goes back as far as 1972, but opposition escalated after 2000 as the project proposal was developed, according to the Zone A Defendre (ZAD) timeline.

While the main protest occurred near Nantes, there were solidarity protests around the French regions and towns and at Gare Montparnasse in Paris (Storify).

Riot police deply tear gas and water cannon at Pont Cheviré

During the afternoon blockade of the Pont Cheviré, the farmers announced the blockade would continue until President Hollande agreed to negotiate over the airport's cancellation.

The blockade continued into the night with a camp set up on the bridge with music and toilets. Tensions mounted in the late evening with the arrival of numerous police and CRS (riot police) trucks.

The atmosphere remained festive on the bridge until around 9pm, but tension was building as the police presence increased. Police then closed down access to prevent more protesters or journalists joining the gathering. Just after 10pm police issued an evacuation ultimatum.

The blockade of Pont Cheviré was disbanded following negotiations with the police before midnight. However tear gas and water cannon were then used on protestors, after the withdrawal had already been agreed.

According to Ocean Presse, brief negotiations between police and demonstrators took place at about 11.10pm which led to the organisers' decision to lift the blockade. But as the protestors began to leave voluntarily, at 11.40pm, police began their attack on the bridge with tear gas and water cannon.

Sortly before leaving, protest leader Jean-François Guitton denounced the disproportionate force that had been deployed: "The security forces used excessive means. They were ready to break and move our material. It is a little revenge of the authorities in relation to the mobilization that was very important today and that's still a victory for us."

The blockaders then retreated for the night to their headquarters in Notre Dame des Landes at La Vache Rit, a converted barn, leaving some 70 tractors stationed on both sides of the southern Pont Cheviré. On both sides of the bridge, the tractors were surrounded by long queues of CRS (riot police) trucks. The CRS were also equipped with lifting gear.

But the protest and blockade was opposed by Bruno Retailleau, President of the Regional Council of Pays de la Loire: "Having taken hostage the residents of Notre-Dame-des-Landes, the zadistes now take hostage all the usual motorists who use Cheviré bridge, which is also a major economic center for our region", he said in a statement as reported by Ocean Presse.

"I ask the State to take all measures to end this intolerable occupation. Because this time, enough, exasperation is at its peak. The courts have ruled, Europe too, for the airport."

An alternative future: nature, farming, low-impact living

A statement from the ZAD website from 27 December 2015 outlines a 6 point alternative future for the land without an airport:

"As there will be no aeroport... We defend this place and intermingle here in our many different ways. We want to take care of the woodlands, its inhabitants, its diversity, its flora and fauna and we plan to stay. Once the aeroport project is abandoned, we ask:

  1. That the inhabitants, proprietors and tenants that were subject to an expropriation or eviction procedure can stay on the zone and reclaim their rights.
  2. That the farmers in the struggle affected, having refused to fold when faced by AGO-VINCI, can freely cultivate the land that they currently have use of, reclaim their rights and continue their activities in good conditions.
  3. That the new inhabitants who came to occupy the ZAD to take part in the struggle can stay on the zone. That that which has been built since 2007 in the occupation movement in terms of atypical agricultural experimentation, self-built or light homes and accommodation (cabins, caravans, yurts etc), ways of life and struggle, can be maintained and continued.
  4. That the land redistributed each year by the chamber of agriculture for AGO-VINCI under the form of indeterminate leases be taken on by an entity from the movement in the struggle which assembles all its elements. That it be therefore the anti-aeroport movement and not the customary institutions that determine the usage of these lands.
  5. That these lands go towards new agricultural and non-agricultural institutions, official or alternative and not to extensions.
  6. That this basis becomes a reality by our collective determination. And we pay attention together to resolve the possible conflicts linked to their being put into place.

"We are already seeding and building a future without an aeroport with diversity and cohesion. It's up to us all, from today, to make it flourish and to defend it."



This story is an edited version of one originally published by Squat!net under Copyleft (CC-SA).

Read associated stories on Notre Dame des Landes at Nantes Indymedia (French), at ZAD (Zone a Defendre), and on Squat!net - tag Notre-Dame-Des-Landes. See also Blockade of Le Pont de Cheviré (Storify).