Nantes: Riotous Assembly over an Ayrault-port

Riots reminiscent of events in Kiev badly damaged the city of Nantes over the weekend as around 1000 leftist extremists battled police, water cannons and teargas at the end of a pacific tractor-led protest against 46-year-old plans to build a new airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, north of the city.

A field of crosses carrying the message to bury  the contested airport (Credit AICCPA Twitter)

A field of crosses carrying the message to bury the contested airport (Credit AICCPA Twitter)

The carnage and damage shocked many including Patrick Rimbert Socialist Mayor of the city once headed by current Socialist Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, and who laid a formal complaint with the police about the damage. He told the conservative Le Figaro there had been: “an air of complaisance, almost laissez faire” about the handling of the demonstration and he said he was making lawyers available to all shopkeepers and residents whose property had been damaged in the clashes.

According to the Loire-Atlantique préfecture, the demonstration saw a crowd of “some 20,000 demonstrators gather, along with around 1,000 radical protesters prepared for violent clashes and who could not be controlled by the marshals of the authorised protest”.

Protesters dig-up paving stones as Nantes demo degenerates. (Credit Sébastien Marcelle Twitter)

Protesters dig-up paving stones as Nantes demo degenerates. (Credit Sébastien Marcelle Twitter)

The fallout from the destruction was compounded by the fact that minister for housing Cécile Duflot, a cabinet member and leader of the Greens (EELV) party which is strongly opposed to the airport, announced before the riot that she backed the protesters “with all my heart («être de tout cœur avec eux»). She was referring to the officially sanctioned demonstration led by 400 tractors and attracting a mixture of eco-groups, the generally-discontented and left-wing opponents of the airport.

Eight police were injured and 14 demonstrators were arrested following the violence, French Radio said. This was later updated by the préfecture which said 10 members of the police force and 20 rioters had been injured in the clashes.

Rennes TV a local broadcaster released the following dramatic coverage of the mayhem:

Similar coverage was published to YouTube by a self-styled independent news agency, l’Agence Info Libre: “Que s’est-il vraiment passé samedi 22 février à Nantes?:

But before it all kicked off this was what the 20,000 activists who gathered in Nantes were up to according to a video published by François NICOLAS, REZE(44)

In a communiqué published following the February 22 protests EELV party spokesman Julien Bayou, wrote: “EELV welcomes the successful mobilization this Saturday in Nantes to challenge the proposed second Nantes airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes. We welcome the turnout of tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators and an impressive procession by hundreds of tractors from neighbouring departments. This mobilization illustrates a common desire to preserve the farmland and wetlands. Activists, elected EELV Europe écologie-Les verts representatives and officials were present in large numbers to reaffirm their opposition to this absurd project that dates from another century, and to demand its be abandoned. EELV deplores the presence of rogue elements and strongly condemns the damage and acts of violence that were caused on the sidelines of this event.”

The protest and the violence that followed, just four weeks ahead of nationwide local elections, was seen by some observers as a deliberate challenge to the authority of the prime minister, who when he was mayor of Nantes repeatedly gave the project — a PPP (private-public-partnership) with the giant French construction company Vinci — his blessing.

The protest is just the latest in an increasingly violent series of clashes between government security forces — sent in to clear the airport site several times since 2012 — and squatters and farmers on what airport opponents call — La ZAD (Zone A Défendre) – a large rural protest camp on the eastern edge of Brittany and 30 minutes drive from Nantes.

As French News Online reported here on November 10 2012 skirmishes took place at Rennes when tractor-led protesters waving banners saying “Non à l’Ayraultport” a play on the prime minister’s name and “La terre aux paysans” made clear that the wetland and farms which the airport would displace should be preserved “

The seriousness of the clashes on Saturday was enhanced by the context. This was the fourth major confrontation between riot police and demonstrators in a major French city since the beginning of the year when Socialist President François Hollande’s authority began to slip away thanks to the mockery and derision that followed a gossip magazine’s disclosure of his indiscreet sexual adventures. This in turn provoked rising demands on the streets for him to resign.

As pointed out here the events surrounding the fallout after the president’s affair with an actress and described in heavy irony as “the most momentous night in recent French history” have seriously distracted the head of state from his priority task of dealing with France’s failing economy and its highest unemployment levels in decades. It has also sent his popularity in opinion polls plunging to levels never before seen in post-war France.

The aftermath of the Nantes riot was marked by an outburst of anger on Twitter as pro- and anti-government groups rushed out a Twitter storm making political capital out of the event and attacking hardline Interior Minister Manuel Valls for being “conveniently lax” or “too harsh” (depending on who was Tweeting). The Minister roundly condemned the violence and said the “ultra-left” and foreigners had converted a protest into “urban guerrilla warfare”

Here one Tweeter proffers a view on an alleged lack of even-handedness in dealing with left and right-wing protests. He claims (wrongly as it turns out) only one person was arrested in Nantes against 276 in Paris after a recent anti gay marriage protest.

Here says another Twitter user is “a new series of post-cards from Nantes courtesy of the far Left”:

Rennes TV has also released an hour-long documentary on the clashes between squatters and riot police over the continuing occupation of the planned site of the new airport: Notre Dame des Landes : La Révolution Verte (Documentaire)
Published on Nov 26, 2013

The gallery below has a selection of images related to the demonstration and the riots that followed. The images are from the Twitter feed covering the demonstration found with the hashtag #NDDL

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Story: Ken Pottinger


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