The balance of the weekend is impressive: several thousand demonstrators, more than a thousand police officers, several dozen injured. Quite a lot of excitement for the 350-inhabitant town of Sainte-Soline in the western French department of Deux-Sèvres – even though the demonstration planned there against the construction of a water reservoir had actually been banned by the authorities.
The Sainte-Soline reservoir is part of a project of 16 ponds that farmers will use to irrigate their fields when the rains fail to materialize – and they often do in the dry region. The basins are open craters lined with plastic and will be filled with up to 650,000 cubic meters of water. The cost of the project, which was actually decided long ago, is estimated at 60 million euros, most of which is to be financed with public money.
The farmers who have joined forces behind the project state that they have to remove 70 percent less groundwater in the summer. For this purpose, the water is to be pumped into the pools in winter. The critics complain that the water is already scarce even in the winter months and fear that the Agriculture embrace the water in the dry region.
For fear of violent riots, the authorities had actually banned the demonstration of several environmental organizations and trade unions planned for Saturday. Nevertheless, according to the organizers, about 7,000 people came, according to the authorities about 4,000. The police prefecture responded with a deployment of more than 1,500 officers. The demonstrators still managed to get to the construction site. The police used tear gas, and according to the authorities, the activists used Molotov cocktails and projectiles, among other things.
The protests bring back bad memories for the government
According to French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, 61 police officers were injured in the riots. “A large part of this demonstration was extremely violent,” Darmanin said, comparing the activists’ approach to “ecoterrorism.” The collective “Bassines, non merci!” (“Water basin, no thanks!”), the the protests had organized to a large extent, there were around 50 injured on the part of the participants. “The state has chosen to protect the property of individuals while putting activists at risk,” said collective spokesman Julien Le Guet. the TV broadcaster BFM.
The activists receive support from the left-wing opposition. Both MEPs from the extreme left La France Insoumise and the French Greens were at the protests over the weekend. However, the former Green presidential candidate Yannick Jadot was received moderately enthusiastically, activists whistled at him during his speech and spray-painted his car with the word “Bazille”https://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/.”If we only ever focus on the differences, we have gained nothing”, said Jadot afterwards in a television interview.
Interior Minister Darmanin announced over the weekend that more than 1,000 officers would remain in place to prevent activists from permanently occupying the area. The protests apparently awaken bad memories in the French government: in the municipality of Notre-Dame-des-Landes near Nantes, residents and environmentalists had protested against the construction of an airport for almost ten years, including by camping out permanently on part of the construction area . In 2018, the French government finally abandoned the airport project.