Protesters clash with police over water reservoirs in France

Protesters clash with police over water reservoirs in France
Опубликовано: Monday, 27 March 2023 07:01

Demonstrators in the Deux-Sèvres region called for a halt to construction of reservoirs for farmers.

Green campaigners clashed with French police on Saturday when protesting against the construction of water reservoirs for farmers in western France.

More than 25,000 protesters gathered in the rural town of Sainte-Soline in the Deux-Sèvres department on Saturday to call on the government to stop the construction of water reservoirs for farmers to use for irrigation during the summer months, according to the NGOs that organized the protest.

Some 3,000 police and 10 helicopters were present on site to contain the demonstrators and prevent them from entering the water reservoir that is currently under construction. Another 15 such reservoirs are planned to be built in the region.

The reservoirs are designed to help farmers faced with more frequent droughts brought on by climate change. They allow water to be pumped from the underground water table in the winter and stored for use in the dry summer months.

But activists say water is a common good and farmers are "stealing" the resource, adding that they should be taking steps to transition toward less water-intensive and more sustainable agricultural practices. Tensions between the two groups have been mounting in the last five years and led to violent confrontations last October.

Saturday’s demonstration in Sainte-Soline came after days of violent protests nationwide against French President Emmanuel Macron’s push for unpopular pensions reforms, which caused the cancellation of a visit by King Charles III of the U.K.

The head of France’s Green party, Marine Tondelier, who took part to Saturday’s protest, said: "The reservoirs are unfair because it is an appropriation and privatization of the water resource by a few to the expense of the majority."

Clashes erupted between the police and the protesters in the early afternoon on Saturday, with the police firing tear gas to stop demonstrators from reaching the reservoir. The protesters threw fireworks and other projectiles. This led to several people being injured and two police cars being burned, France3 reported.

France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin reacted on Twitter, saying that it was "unacceptable" and "unbearable" that radical far-left activists are being "extremely violent against our policemen. ... Nobody should tolerate this." He said 24 policemen and seven demonstrators were injured in the clashes.

The local authorities didn’t authorize Saturday’s demonstration, which comes as France has experienced one of the worst winter droughts in recent years. The prefect from the Deux-Sèvres department, Emmanuelle Dubée, said that "several hundred radical individuals are preparing violent actions" and called on "those who wish to demonstrate peacefully to be very careful."

French Ecological Transition Minister Christophe Béchu defended the use of water reservoirs as a tool to help farmers adapt to climate change, but acknowledged it’s not a long-term solution.

"The reservoir is not the solution to climate change; it’s not how we’re going to get out of it," Béchu told FranceInfo on Saturday, but he added that they’re useful "to ensure agricultural production, to feed us."

Béchu also said that France’s new water-management plan, which will lay down measures to save water and address drought, has been "finalized and will be presented next week." He added that this plan will address the management of water reservoirs, including in Sainte-Soline where the protest took place, saying that "if the underground water table is not full, there will be no authorization to fill the reservoir."

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