Protesters clash with police over water tanks in France – POLITICO
Environmental activists clashed with French police on Saturday during a protest against the construction of water reservoirs for farmers in western France.
More than 25,000 protesters gathered in the rural commune of Sainte-Soline, in the Deux-Sèvres department, on Saturday to call on the government to stop the construction of water reservoirs that farmers would use for irrigation during the months summer, according to the NGOs that organized the demonstration.
Some 3,000 police and 10 helicopters were on site to contain protesters and prevent them from entering the water reservoir currently under construction. Fifteen more reservoirs of this type are expected to be built in the region.
The reservoirs are designed to help farmers facing more frequent droughts caused by climate change. They allow water to be pumped from groundwater in the winter and stored for use during the dry summer months.
But campaigners say water is a commons and farmers are “stealing” the resource, adding they should take steps to switch to less water-intensive and more sustainable farming practices. Tensions between the two groups have escalated over the past five years and led to violent clashes last October.
Saturday’s protest in Sainte-Soline came after days of violent protests across the country against French President Emmanuel Macron’s push for unpopular pension reforms, which prompted the cancellation of a visit by King Charles III of United Kingdom.
The leader of the French Green party, Marine Tondelier, who took part in the demonstration on Saturday, said: “The reservoirs are unfair because it is an appropriation and privatization of the water resource by a few to the detriment of the majority.”
clashes exploded between police and protesters early Saturday afternoon, with police firing tear gas to prevent protesters from reaching the reservoir. Protesters threw fireworks and other projectiles. Several people were injured and two police cars were set on fire, France3 reported.
French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin reacted on Twitter, saying it was “unacceptable” and “unbearable” that radical far-left activists were “extremely violent against our police officers. … No one should tolerate this”. He said 24 police officers and seven protesters were injured in the clashes.
Local authorities did not allow Saturday’s protest, as France suffered one of the worst winter droughts in years. The prefect of Deux-Sèvres, Emmanuelle Dubée, said that “several hundred radical individuals are preparing violent actions” and called on “those who wish to demonstrate peacefully to be extremely cautious”.
French Minister for Ecological Transition Christophe Béchu defended the use of water tanks as a tool to help farmers adapt to climate change, but admitted it was not a long-term solution .
“The reservoir is not the solution to climate change, that’s not how we’re going to get out of it,” Béchu told FranceInfo on Saturday, but added that they are useful “to ensure the agricultural production, to feed us”.
Béchu also said that France’s new water management plan, which will define measures to save water and combat drought, has been “finalized and will be presented next week”. He added that this plan will focus on the management of water reservoirs, including in Sainte-Soline where the demonstration took place, specifying that “if the water table is not full, there will be no authorization to fill the tank”.