NANTES: French policemen on Friday fired tear gas at protesting squatters during a drive to evict them from the site of a proposed new airport to be built on protected swampland.
A policeman and two television journalists were slightly wounded as the angry protestors hurled bottles, stones and firecrackers at the estimated 500 policemen, the correspondent said.
The policeman had an injured hand and the journalists appeared to have mild head injuries.
The crackdown at Notre-Dame-Des-Landes, north of the western city of Nantes, came a day ahead of a planned protest that is expected to gather thousands of activists.
Two excavators and a large waste receptacle were deployed to clear an area where the protestors had set up shacks at the 1,650-hectare site.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls adopted a tough tone, saying “It is out of the question to let a cyst grow,” and vowed to do “all we can to ensure the law is respected and construction can start.”
“It’s a useful project... for millions of inhabitants of our country,” he said.
The airport, which is scheduled to replace the current airport at Nantes in 2017, is a pet project of Socialist Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who was the city’s mayor from 1989 until this year.
It has been opposed by the Greens and various politicians on environmental grounds. Eco-warrior protestors have set up numerous camps around the area.
Interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet confirmed a sweep was underway. “This operation is aimed at clearing three sites occupied illegally,” he said.
The site has been occupied by squatters for months and many of them were unfazed by the police crackdown.
“We will continue,” said a woman, identifying herself only as Sophie. “We will remain on track. The moment we are driven out, we will reoccupy.” The 580-million-euro ($747-million) project was approved in 2008, with construction expected to start in 2014. The airport is set to initially have a capacity of four million passengers annually and supporters say it will provide a major boost to tourism in western France.