Huge protest in centre of Nantes against new airport – forceful police resistance; some rioting, violence and injuries

A huge protest took place in Nantes on 22nd February, against the planned new replacement airport to be built at Notre Dame des Landes, some miles to the north. The organisers estimated some 50 – 60,000 protesters, who came in from supportive groups from regions all across France. There are reported to have been 65 coach loads of protesters who travelled to Nantes to take part, and 520 tractors, brought by supportive farmers from surrounding areas. The protests were put down with considerable force by the police, using water canon, rubber bullets and tear gas. The issue has become very political in France. With elections coming up this  year, the Prime Minister (and former Mayor of Nantes and ardent backer of the new airport) is thought unlikely to back down from pressing for the airport. However, it is not thought likely that there will be forceful evictions of the farmers and activists who are occupying the land allocated for the airport, called the ZAD – Zone à Défendre as it would be unpopular. An opinion poll found 56% of those surveyed were against the new airport. The courts have ruled it can go ahead, but there are appeals on ground of the law on water and on biodiversity.   And blog.  Comment from a Nantes resident.


Construction of the new airport at Notre Dame des Landes is due to start this year but has not yet begun, and the airport opening target date has been pushed back from 2017 to at least 2019.

Protest against airport Notre-Dame-des-Landes degenerates

22.2.2014  (Le Monde)

Imperfect translation into English : 

Original French at

La manifestation des opposants à l'aéroport de Notre-Dame-des-Landes a dégénéré samedi 22 février à Nantes.

It is 17.00 hours and in Nantes, and Olivier Niol , 45, tries to maneuver his big green tractor to leave the Franklin Roosevelt during in the center of the city. The cloud of tear has almost reached him and he struggled to open his eyes.

A few dozen yards behind him, groups of protesters and riot police respond with stones , bottles and flares on one side and to the police , decided to clear the city center, tear gas concussion and a water cannon. Before the farmer’s tractor, which has come from Morbihan where he raises poultry , stands at the same time , the closing meeting of the manifestation of opponents airport Notre-Dame -des- Landes ( NDDL ) which brought together tens of thousands of people.

“The party is ruined , the organizers are overwhelmed by the radical fringe on which they rely since the beginning of this movement ,” the prefecture of Loire-Atlantique denounces.  She reported eight people wounded on the side of law enforcement , all hospitalized and dozens of men bruised and ten arrests. Journalists have also been violently attacked by opponents . No report on the number of people injured on the protesters side was available on Saturday night.

A dozen businesses were severely damaged. Crackers are also attacked a police station, an agency of the Vinci group , dealer airport project , but also street furniture or catenary SNCF to block the movement of trains. At least two construction equipment but also a barricade and a car were also burned.

The clashes left four wounded among the police .


The clashes left four wounded among the police.



The opposition to this project , dear to Prime Minister Jean- Marc Ayrault, former mayor of Nantes, and supported by the government, it is all at the same time : the will to fight with the police and CRS of a government that wants “force through ” this project according to critics ; and the political and legal battle to block any runway opening .

On Saturday in the streets of Nantes on Saturday, there were associatives , farmers, leftist militants ( Left Front, ZIP, etc.). , Environmentalists, trade unionists and anti-capitalist , often more extreme , as among a section of those who occupy the ZAD , the activity area deferred that has become the area to defend.

Read: Notre-Dame-des-Landes: opponents of the airport still mobilized


Police and gendarmes have used tear gas and water cannons against the activists.


20 000 and 60 000 TS MANIFESTAN

At the dispersion, it is difficult to assess the exact number of participants since the event was quickly cut into several pieces. The side of the prefecture, it was announced “around 20,000 protesters with nearly 1,000 demonstrators radicals ready for the battle that could not be controlled by the organizers “ .

The organizers themselves, claiming between 50,000 and 60,000 protesters and 520 tractors. Is more than 17 November 2012,  when 30,000 people marched to reoccupy the grove north of Nantes and against police violence.  “This is the biggest mobilization of the movement” , say the representatives of the ” coordination “of all associations opposed to the project, (ACIPA) and” Buddy “, farmers near the Confédération Paysanne and anti-capitalist living in the ZAD.  “This day is a success and the various components of the fight remain united on the area”  they said on Saturday night, in a joint statement. 


According to the prefecture, the event attracted around 20,000 protesters.


“With 65 coaches coming from 200 regional opposition groups that exist throughout France , we see that the front of solidarity has widened rejoices Julien Durand of ACIPA (inter Citizen Association of the populations concerned by the draft Airport Notre-Dame-des-Landes). And according to am IFOP opinion poll released today, a majority of French (56%) did not support the transfer of the current airport of Nantes Atlantique, to the new site that must be built in the grove at Notre Dame des Landes.. We do not really see how politically, the government can can persist . 

It is also what Olivier Niol believes, driving his tractor. “More and more farmers are opposed.  The farmer who lent me his tractor to come to Nantes – mine gave up the ghost before arriving – is not committed to the Confédération Paysanne, but he is tired that of the decline in farmland,  says this robust poultry farmer.  I do not see why the government would not back down on this issue, as they have given way several times to the right.  The government is losing the vote of the  left wing small peasant farmers.


In the parade in Nantes, Saturday, Feb. 22.



In the parade in Nantes, Saturday, Feb. 22 .

The case – beyond legal hazards  of the Court, were filed by opponents early in February against the orders of the prefecture on the law concerning water  and the law on protected species taken in late December – is eminently political . In the protest, many people wanted  the two heads of the executive.. “No to Ayraultport of Notre Dame des Landes ,” reads the slogans everywhere.

If the proximity of municipal elections suggests a break and no probability of intervention against the zadistes and occupants of some six farms which are still operating in the area of future construction, as well as twenty houses still occupied by individuals, whose vigilance is unabated .

“I do not believe the works will start there in the coming months ,”  says José Bové MEP Europe -Ecologie -Les Verts .  They cannot move the protected species, there are elections : any attempt by Jean- Marc Ayrault to send in the forces on the ground would meet stronger opposition even than in November 2012 . The political risk is too great. ”  The government will not back down because this is absurd , also ensures the co-chair of the Left Party , Jean -Luc Mélenchon . All surveys showed the damage this airport would cause would be for nothing. Why do you want to do it in these conditions? ”


Peasant mobilization was strong in Nantes, where the procession was attended by 530 tractors.


In the event, some brocardent, kindly Greens suspects remain in the government majority. “Europe-Ecologie Yellow” , denounced on a sign, Jean-Marie, a teacher came from Rennes . Driving as a big green tractor, Thomas Rabu, 35, came from the region Ancenis with fifty colleagues. “They need to realize they will not feedbitumen “ says the young sheep farmer. Throughout the procession, largely good-natured and enlivened by many clowns benefits, it is a leitmotif. “Yes vegetables, not bitumen. 

Peasant mobilization, in the opening day of the Salon de l’Agriculture in Paris , is strong. Jean-François Guitton, a leader of Pal 44 (Collective of professional agricultural organizations outraged by the airport project) came from Saint-Gildas-des-Bois, to manifest . Dairy farmer with 80 cows, also member of the Confédération Paysanne, very present in the procession, he explains that “the FNSEA is against the airport project, but can not s’ display with Conf ‘and environmentalists “ . For him, “it was necessary to mark a strong political move before the municipal because beyond NDDL, too many candidates have projects artificial soil for larger areas of activity or construct housing “ .


Participants, in turn, fired bullets at the police and attacked a police station as well as an agency of the Vinci group.


Beyond the fighting, would have preferred to avoid the organizers, the balance is positive according to them. “Government can not s’ stubborn and want to move in strength , says Françoise Verchère, collective CEDPA (Collective elected doubting the relevance of the airport). mobilization is not weakening and it must take into account. 

A prefecture in Nantes, the green light is expected for the transfer of protected species. “All appeals opponents were lost by them , says Mickaël Doré, sub-prefect in charge of the case. crystallizes many different oppositions . This is the first time we will build a new airport for twenty years. We will consider all environmental aspects of this issue. But there is no question that a minority of violent opposition opposes a project democratically decided. 



Comment from a resident of Nantes:

Some of the media coverage of the protests have given a distorted account, with mentions of “pillaging anarchists” and “individuals who are very violent”. This fits in with the whole right wing media discourse of “Nantes saccagé” (~”sacked” as in Troy).

I was there on Saturday, and I fear some of the media coverage is misleading. It is true that Vinci, Nantes Métropole and Police Nationale Offices were damaged and spraypainted, and fires started at bus shelters, at a municipal building site, and one, very theatrical, barricade, but all of the shopping streets behind the police line were entirely unmolested.

This created a rather surreal atmosphere, with street battles going on at only a few tens of metres from
a) peacefully chatting demonstrators (the vast majority 30,000 against maybe 100 hotheads/agent provocateurs/’black bloc’) and
b) Nantes’ usual Saturday shopping crowd, who were entirely unmolested unless they got a gust of tear gas, which the police here let off with unnecessary abandon.

…. and two film clips of peaceful protesters below.

 YouTube film clips:

  1. Peaceful protesters

    1 min video clip shows a peaceful part of the Nantes demo – just people walking, drumming, costumes. Not violent. …

    2 min video taken from a high window of part of Nantes demo showing peaceful protest & police tear gas throw at them …


    Contrasting with (1 min 10) short film clip of the protester violence and the police response with water canons etc;




Jean-Marc Ayrault and Manuel Valls condemns the violence

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault “condemns in the strongest terms the violent acts committed by a thousand radical demonstrators,” according to a statement released by Matignon. “In a democracy, the right to challenge and protest against a project is legitimate. But such violence is unacceptable, and nothing could justify ” added Mr. Ayrault, former mayor of Nantes, favorable. “He commends the work of the prefect and the police” at the violence.

For its part, the Interior Minister Manuel Valls has challenged the ultra-left and “Black Blocs” , ” very violent ” , who “engaged in abuses and intolerable violence: Molotov cocktails, bolts, paving thrown on the police, destroying shop windows, vandalizing a number of shops, street furniture and the entrance of a police station ” . Manuel Valls expressed his fear that “isolated groups continue this urban guerrilla” . (AFP)




Press release from the organisers of the anti- airport demonstration on Feb. 22nd

The event today has witnessed unparalleled mobilization.

520 tractors coming from all neighboring districts have been counted,  twice as many as on March 24, 2012 in Nantes. This marks a massive involvement of the small farmer world . Vigilant tractors are ready to intervene on the zad (ZAD is Zone a Defendre).

There were 63 coaches from all regions of France , twice as many as came for the human chain . This is evidence of a national mobilization and the connection between the struggle at Notre Dame des Landes and other struggles against large and imposed unnecessary projects (les grands projets inutiles et imposes)

There were between 50,000 and 60 000 people , more even than in the event that marked the reoccupation of 17 November 2012. This has been the largest movement of mobilization .

The parade was festive , creative and determined, with batukadas (? translation?) , salamanders, giant crested newts , animal masks to mark people’s refusal to allow the destruction of protected species and the so-called compensation measures.

Speeches and events were held until 18.00 hours in the Daviais square .

The prefecture had chosen to put Nantes under siege and prevent us from being visible in the city center. This is the first time that a demonstration has been banned from the Cours des 50 Otages.  A part of the procession passed through the Beaulieu island. Another tried to go through the route originally planned and faced violent police repression shot with rubber bullets , tear gas and stun grenades . This did not prevent the demonstrators  remaining en mass in the streets of Nantes until the end .

There are different ways for people to express themselves in this movement. The government is deaf to the anti- airport protest , so  it is not surprising that some anger is expressed . What could happen if there was  a new intervention in the zad ?

This day has been a success and the various components of the fight remain united on the ground. The opposition has only grown over  30 years. The government has no choice but to abandon the airport project !



In the original French:

—– Communiqué des organisateurs de la manifestation anti-aéroport du 22 février.

La manifestation d’aujourd’hui a connu une mobilisation inégalée.

520 tracteurs, venus de tous les départements limitrophes ont été comptés, deux fois plus que le 24 mars 2012 à Nantes. Cela marque une implication massive du monde paysan. Les tracteurs vigilants sont prêts à intervenir sur la zad.

Il y avait 63 bus venus de toutes les régions de France, deux fois plus encore que lors de la chaîne humaine. C’est le signe d’une mobilisation nationale et de la connection entre Notre Dame des Landes et d’autres luttes contre les grands projets inutiles et imposés.

Il y avait entre 50 et 60 000 personnes, plus encore que lors de la manifestation de réoccupation du 17 novembre 2012. Il s’agit de la plus grosse mobilisation du mouvement.

Le défilé a été festif, créatif et déterminé, avec des batukadas, salamandres, tritons géants, masques d’animaux marquant le refus de la destruction des espèces protégées et des mesures dites de compensation.
Des prises de paroles et animations ont eu lieu jusqu’à 18h square Daviais.

La préfecture avait choisit de mettre Nantes en état de siège et de nous empêcher d’être visible dans le centre ville. C’est la première fois qu’on interdit à une manifestation d’emprunter le Cours des 50 Otages. Une partie du cortège est passée par l’île Beaulieu. Une autre a essayé de passer par le trajet initialement prévu et a fait face à une répression policière violente avec tir de flashball, gaz lacrymogènes et grenades assourdissantes. Cela n’a pas empêché les manifestants de rester en masse dans les rues de Nantes jusqu’à la fin.

Il existe différentes manières de s’exprimer dans ce mouvement. Le gouvernement est sourd à la contestation anti-aéroport, il n’est pas étonnant qu’une certaine colère s’exprime. Que pourrait-il se passer en cas de nouvelle intervention sur la zad ?

Cette journée est un succès et les différentes composantes de la lutte restent unies sur le terrain. L’opposition ne fait que croître depuis 30 ans. Le gouvernement n’a pas d’autre choix que d’abandonner le projet d’aéroport !





French anti-airport protest turns violent

22.2.2014  (France 24)

Protesters opposed to plans to build a new airport in the French city of Nantes smashed shop windows Saturday and hurled paving stones at police, who answered with tear gas and water cannons.

The protesters are opposed to the airport as it is set to be built on protected swampland.

Thousands swarmed the picturesque western city’s central Petite Hollande square, the latest in a string of demonstrations against the pet project of Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Local government estimates there were 20,000 protestors present while protest organisers estimate that there were closer to 50,000 people.

A short distance away from the main protest, about 1,000 radical environmentalists staged a more violent protest, smashing shop windows and trashing a post office and the local offices of Vinci, the contractor on the airport project in nearby Notre-Dame-des-Landes.

The demonstrators pulled up paving stones from the Nantes tramway and threw them at charging police, along with bottles, emergency flares and other projectiles.
Six police were wounded in the clashes and four protesters were arrested, officials said.

Police said the more mainstream protest organisers were “overwhelmed by the radical fringe they’ve relied on from the start”.

Ayrault, who was mayor of Nantes from 1989 to 2012, condemned the violence.

Violence ‘unacceptable’

“In a democracy, the right to oppose and protest against a project is legitimate, but such violence is unacceptable, and nothing can justify it,” he said.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls echoed his criticism and said the “ultra-left” and foreigners had turned the protest into “urban guerrilla warfare”.

The protest comes two months after local officials gave the final go-ahead for preliminary work on the 580-million-euro ($795-million) project, which was approved in 2008.

Construction is due to start this year but has not yet begun, and the airport opening target date has been pushed back from 2017 to at least 2019.

The airport is set to have an initial annual capacity of four million passengers. Supporters say it will provide a major boost to tourism in western France and on the Atlantic coast.

A poll published Saturday by French polling agency Ifop reported that the majority of French citizens (56%) are opposed to the airport’s construction.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)






Police clash with pillaging anarchists in western France as airport protest degenerates

22.2.2014 (Star Tribune)

PARIS — Riot police moved into the western French city of Nantes on Saturday, clashing with hundreds of anarchists who broke shop windows, destroyed bus stops and pillaged the city center.

At least eight police officers were hospitalized after violent confrontations with up to 1,000 “radicals,” the prefecture of the Loire-Atlantique region said. Fourteen people were detained.

The rioters had joined an estimated 20,000 people protesting plans to build a regional airport. Officials did not say whether protesters were injured.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls said the delinquents were from the “radicalized ultra-left” and were waging an “urban guerrilla” campaign.

“These are individuals who are very violent.” Valls said on iTele TV station.

Police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the attackers, some wearing hoods and helmets. However, after night fall, approximately 200 were reportedly still roaming the Nantes city center.

There have been numerous, sometimes violent, demonstrations against the building of an airport in Notre Dame des Landes, a pet project of Socialist Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, a Nantes native. The anti-airport protests, mounted since 2009, have brought together an unlikely alliance of farmers, ecologists and anarchists — who call themselves ZADists, based on the French acronym for “development zone.” The farmers trying to save their land have depended on the ZADists to keep their protest alive.

It was unclear whether the ZADists were joined by even more radical elements. The interior minister referred to ultra-leftist groups also active in Germany, Italy and elsewhere.

The prime minister issued a firm condemnation of the violence, saying “nothing can justify it.”




The Nantes protest and rioting against proposed airport –                blog by John Stewart

Date added: February 24, 2014

In a blog about the huge demonstration, part of which turned in to rioting, at Nantes against the proposed new airport, John Stewart looks at how this protest came about – and its relevance to other large infrastructure projects in Europe. The Nantes protest organisers say as many as 50,000 people attended, from supportive protest committees from areas across France. The politics of this airport project have taken on national interest and significance, and also linked into opposition to “Les Grands Projets Inutiles Imposes” (useless, imposed mega-projects). The people passionately fighting plans for a new airport in unspoiled French farming countryside are linked to those opposing HS2 and other schemes like a high-speed rail in Northern Italy and cyanide-mined gold extraction project in Romania. All these projects have managed to get support from very disparate sections of society. They all have real doubts about the economics or the necessity of the project; also they have land, homes, countryside or communities to defend; there is significant local opposition; and they also attract in outside opposition, from people with a variety of perspective as well as environmental.

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