By Christine Prat
February 28th 2014


On Saturday, February 22nd, a big demonstration against a megalomaniac airport project took place in Nantes – Western France – the city that local politicians dream of making the center of international air traffic in Western Europe. Although the big media claim that the demonstration was spoilt by ‘dangerous radical activists’ who caused devastation in the center of Nantes, what I saw of it – confirmed by other witnesses – was mainly violent attacks and shots of tear gas by the police against a huge crowd of peaceful demonstrators and passers-by while only a handful of people were throwing stones at the cops – moreover, there is strong suspicion that plain clothes cops were among the stones throwers (see photo below).

The project has first been devised in the 1960’s, but put on stand-by in the early 1970’s. There has always been strong opposition from local small farmers and environmentalists. See article of November 28th 2012

After the big demonstration of November 17th 2012, the focus was mainly on the legal side of the matter: it turned out that the corporation – Vinci – contracted to build the airport had not respected the requirements of French Law, which demands that projects destroying a humid zone (very important for global climate) create another one in the region. Meanwhile, the police and militaries kept harassing the local population, block roads, intimidate people, etc. while the farmers and activists residing on the spot kept developing traditional agriculture, organic gardens, organizing meetings, lectures, shows, festivals, workshops, creative ways of living, alternative trading, solidarity, free markets without money, etc. Due to the legal problems, the government had to announce a temporary stop of the project in April 2013. Some of the opponents thought that they had won, on May 11th they organized a human chain and a big party entitled ‘Let’s bury the project’ and on August 4th a Festival. But other opponents could not believe that the corporation and the authorities would give up so easily: the State has signed a contract with the Vinci Corporation and would have to pay huge fines if they cancelled it, moreover Vinci is well known for bribing politicians and civil servants, who don’t want to be exposed nor to have to pay the bribes back.

When it became clear, a few months ago, that they had not given up the project and planned to start the works (the prefecture published the decrees end 2013), opponents called for a big demonstration in Nantes on February 22nd 2014. It has been announced 2 months in advance, with a Facebook page and all. The authorities did not officially react, until one day before the demonstration, when it was announced that the route of the demonstration was not allowed, and that the city center would be closed. Still, some fifty to sixty thousand (twenty thousand according to the police) people came to Nantes on Saturday, with flowers, music instruments, banners, and started a joyous and peaceful demonstration. Then it turned out that the cops had blocked the main avenue where most demonstrations always march, as well as the side streets, and forced the demonstrators to change their route. At the place of the blockade, some people were throwing stones at the cops, who were shooting tear gas canisters and other ammunitions far above the heads of the stone throwers, right into the crowd. The farmers, who had come with tractors, turned around, then indicated a new gathering point for the demo and told demonstrators to walk on the left of the tractors, which formed a protection between the crowd and the fighting zone.

However, the cops were also blocking the other end of the street (I heard people who had walked around say “we are trapped”). The cops shot tear gas among the fleeing crowd. At the gathering place where the demo was to end, they attacked from several sides, shooting tear gas far beyond the rioters, among the peaceful crowd again. Two tear gas canisters landed just beside me and from that moment I did not see anything anymore. I am very thankful to the people who immediately came with stuff to rinse my eyes, put drops and all those who offered help. After I recovered, I needed a bathroom, so I went into one of the two bars on the square, which terraces were overcrowded (it was sunny). When I came out of the bathroom, there was tear gas inside the bar, as well as crying and chocking people, the terraces had disappeared. The square and the main avenue were invaded by police vehicles, tear gas and smoke.

The media immediately claimed that the center of Nantes had been devastated by radical activists from the ZAD (the area slated for the airport, now occupied by some farmers who refuse to leave and activists defending the wild area housing endangered species). They did not say a word about wounded demonstrators and passers-by, which I find unbelievable, considering what I had seen, specially as the huge majority of the demonstrators were ‘respectable’ citizens, not used to have problems with the police, who came with small children, elderly people, handicapped people, many of whom must have fallen, been wounded or felt sick when the cops shot tear gas and other ammunition into the fleeing crowds. Indymedia-Nantes reported – with photos and testimonies – that a 29-years-old man had lost an eye, according to the doctors because of a flash ball shot. He said that he had seen another man with eye wounds at the hospital. He was beyond any doubts a peaceful marcher. Some reports say that a few dozen people had been treated at the Academic Hospital, which refuses to give any confirmation or information.

It looks very much like a set up by the authorities to find an excuse to attack the ZAD (the area slated for the airport). The chairman of the Region immediately wrote to the President to ask for an immediate attack of the area and removal of the people living there; the prefect accused the activists from the ZAD and the organizers of the demonstration to be responsible for the damage. I believe that there are serious reasons to suspect that those politicians have acted in agreement with – maybe on orders from – Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who had been Mayor of Nantes for years when he was appointed to head the government, and always supported the project.

The media and politicians keep denouncing the costs of the ‘devastation’, trying to get tax payers on their side. However, the damage was much less than what they claim; the businesses that got tagged and had broken windows, as well as the destroyed building equipment, either belong to Vinci or to firms working for them or to firms supporting the airport. They are all private businesses, thus the damage will be paid by their insurances. The only damages to public property were the stones torn out of the street to be thrown at the cops – it was very limited and repaired the next day – and a police station which was surprisingly deserted and not protected.

Should the airport be built, it would cost much more to the tax payers: as usual, Vinci signed a ‘Private-Public Partnership’, which means in ordinary language that the costs and losses are for the tax payers and all the profits for Vinci’s share holders.

At the moment, people defending the area (ZAD) are fearing – and preparing for – a military attack…


A photographer, Eric Forhan, took this picture of people who obviously don’t wear a uniform and can look like ‘violent demonstrators’ within a few seconds…

cops-in-jeans eric forhan


Manif du 22-2-2014 à Nantes: ce que j’en ai vu

Par Christine Prat

Les médias sont laconiques: le centre de Nantes a été ‘dévasté’, des ‘casseurs’ ont gâché la manif, 8 (ou 6) flics ont été blessés et 14 personnes arrêtées. Là où j’étais, j’ai vu seulement une poignée de gens qui se battaient ou jetaient des projectiles, une grue en feu, ainsi qu’un arrêt de bus. Etaient-ils tous des ‘casseurs’ ou y avait-il aussi des gens qui n’admettaient pas les décisions autoritaires des pouvoirs publiques, qui ont d’abord annoncé – au dernier moment – que la manif (prévue depuis des mois) était interdite, puis fait bloquer une grande partie du centre ville, ce qui a obligé la manif à changer de parcours. A l’endroit où le parcours était bloqué, les tracteurs – majoritairement de la Confédération Paysanne – ont fait demi-tour, quelqu’un qui avait un micro dans le tracteur a annoncé une nouvelle destination pour la manif et dit aux gens de passer à gauche des tracteurs, qui formaient un rempart entre les manifestants et la zone d’escarmouches. Cependant, les flics ont tiré des grenades lacrymogènes et assourdissantes bien au-delà de la poignée de gens qui jetaient des projectiles. Les braves gens, manifestants pacifiques et passants égarés, ont du s’enfuir. Mais il y avait aussi des flics à l’autre bout de la rue, j’ai entendu des gens qui étaient allés voir dire « nous sommes pris au piège ». Plus tard, les flics ont attaqué le lieu où se terminait la manif. Là encore, ils ont tiré des grenades au-dessus des têtes des ‘casseurs’, au milieu de la foule. Deux grenades sont tombées juste à côté de moi – c’est pourquoi je n’ai pas de photos de l’assaut final, je n’y voyais plus rien. Là, je tiens à remercier encore une fois les gens qui sont tout de suite venus me rincer les yeux, me mettre des gouttes et tous ceux qui ont proposé leur aide: il y avait une vraie solidarité. Après çà, ayant besoin d’aller aux toilettes, je suis entrée dans un des deux bars de la place, dont les terrasses étaient pleines à craquer, beaucoup de gens buvaient debout entre les tables, faute de place. Quand je suis sortie des toilettes, l’intérieur du bar était envahi par le gaz lacrymogène, et par des gens gazés, et les terrasses n’existaient plus.
Je ne peux pas croire que seulement quelques flics aient été blessés, vu qu’une grande majorité de gens qui manifestaient étaient des gens ‘comme il faut’, qui n’ont jamais eu affaire à la police – des gens avec des enfants, des gens d’un certain âge, des personnes âgées – et qui ont dû être pris de panique par la violence de l’attaque, ou faire des malaises à cause des lacrymos, tirées, je le répète, au milieu de la foule, bien au-delà des points chauds.
Quant aux journalistes, je ne sais pas ce que pensaient ceux qui étaient sur place, mais en tous cas les médias pour lesquels ils travaillent sont fondamentalement malhonnêtes dans leur relation des faits. Ils ne parlent d’aucune victime parmi les manifestants, mais indymedia-Nantes a déjà signalé qu’un jeune a perdu un œil (il y a des photos et interviews à l’appui) et un autre a été grièvement atteint au visage (il y a au moins une photo).

Les autorités ont dû admettre qu’il n’y avait aucun des ces ‘dangereux militants radicaux’ qu’ils essaient de rendre responsables des violences,  parmi les personnes arrêtées, et ont avancé comme excuse que la police ne pouvait pas en même temps ‘maintenir l’ordre’ et ‘exécuter des tâches de police judiciaire’ pour arrêter les responsables : comme si c’était les mêmes services de police qui faisaient tout cela ! Il y avait un camion de la BAC, on ne sait pas ce qu’ils ont fabriqué. Un photographe a pris un cliché d’un groupe de flics (voir ci-dessous), dont beaucoup sont de toute évidence en civil, avec des jeans et des chaussures de sport ordinaires, sous leurs blousons et leurs casques. De là à se demander si, au lieu d’infiltrer les soi-disant radicaux et de les arrêter, ils n’ont pas participé à la casse pour faire dégénérer la manif…

 cops-in-jeans eric forhan