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


By Christine Prat (See previous article)


January 8th, 2013 – The anti-airport struggle reached a climax last weekend – January 4th, 5th, 6th – with a festival that attracted between 8000 (according to police) to 30000 (according to organizers) visitors and supporters, despite of hard conditions. Following the November 17th demonstration during which 5 cabins– a meeting place, two dormitories, a sanitary block and a workshop (CQFD nr 106, December 2012) – were rebuilt under the protection of demonstrators and local farmers, the authorities banned all transport of building materials to the area, so that the police blocked the vehicles bringing materials to put up stages and tents for the festival, as well as the vehicles bringing food and drinks. The weather was rather bad, some people got stuck in the mud up to their knees and could only come out by leaving their boots buried in the mud.

Prime Minister Ayrault, supported by President Hollande, still mumbles that the project will be realized anyway. However, resistance and support keep growing. Locally, solidarity between activists and local farmers and inhabitants grows stronger. A member of the ACIPA (local association of directly impacted citizens) told CQFD: “… Most of all, there is one achievement: having been able to organize into one general meeting, despite of some clashes and different political cultures!”… “Illegal occupation of the area somehow became legitimate and moreover, those young people brought in their very democratic ways of working.” (CQFD nr 106, December 2012). On November 17th, farmers brought some 400 tractors to protect the demonstration and the rebuilding of cabins. They left tractors chained to each other around the cabins to block bulldozers and police vehicles.


Further, support is quickly growing. In November there were already over 140 local support committees all over France, as well as two in Belgium (Brussels and Liege). Support demonstrations take place every Saturday in Nantes and in many cities and towns in France. Many actions have been organized against the building corporation Vinci, which is supposed to build and manage the airport. They already own or manage motorways and parking lots all over France, so that protesters could organize local actions against the corporation by blocking toll booths on motorways and at parking exits, letting vehicles go through without paying, until the police arrived. In places, the connection has been made with other struggles: for instance, in Bordeaux, the DAL – “Right To Housing”, an association that demands housing for all and squats empty buildings to house homeless families – occupied an empty building together with anti-airport protesters. Support is also coming from individuals and groups from the UK, Italy, Germany, etc.

“Long Walks” towards Notre-Dame-des-Landes have been or are being organized. People left from Nice at the beginning of December, walking all day and sleeping in villages where they are housed by supporters. Others left from Lyon, and more recently from Lille. They are supposed to converge on the site at the beginning of February. In December, people cycled to Notre-Dame-des-Landes from the Ardèche, in South-eastern France.

There are also demonstrations and support actions for the people who have been arrested on the site, especially for one individual who was immediately brought to court, convicted, sentenced to 5 months and has been in jail ever since. He and several other persons were arrested at a blockade where a police infiltrator was present. Money is being raised for their legal defense.

Many more events are scheduled, more will be improvised. It’s not over! Many other struggles against other controversial projects – which have not yet got as much media coverage as Notre-Dame-des-Landes – are still going on.


(in English)
CQFD nr 106, December 2012
Le Monde Diplomatique, nr 706, January 2013

See previous article

Few photos of the Festizad available, you can see a video on: