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PROTESTS

IN PICTURES: Clashes as thousands protest French agro-industry water ‘grab’

Thousands of demonstrators defied an official ban to march on Saturday against the deployment of new water storage infrastructure for agricultural irrigation in western France, some clashing with police.

Protesters hold a banner reading
Protesters hold a banner reading "We are not defending water, We are the water defending itself" during a demonstration against a giant water retention basin project in Sainte-Soline, western France, on October 30, 2022.  (Photo: Pascal Lachenaud / AFP)

Clashes between paramilitary gendarmes and demonstrators erupted with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin reporting that 61 officers had been hurt, 22 seriously.

“Bassines Non Merci”, which organised the protest, said around 30 demonstrators had been injured. Of them, 10 had to seek medical treatment and three were hospitalised.

Protesters march from a gathering site during the demonstration against the giant water retention basin project on October 30, 2022. (Photo by Pascal Lachenaud / AFP)

The pressure group brings together environmental associations, trade unions and anti-capitalist groups against what it claims is a “water grab” by the “agro-industry” in western France.

Local officials said six people were arrested during the protest and that 4,000 people had turned up for the banned demonstration. Organisers put the turnout at 7,000.

The deployment of giant water “basins” is underway in the village of Sainte-Soline, in the Deux-Sevres department, to irrigate crops, which opponents claim distorts access to water amid drought conditions.

Around 1,500 police were deployed, according to the prefect of the Deux-Sevres department Emmanuelle Dubee.

Protesters dismantle an outdoor water pipe during the demo. (Photo by Pascal Lachenaud / AFP)
 
Dubee said on Friday she had wanted to limit possible “acts of violence”, referring to the clashes between demonstrators and security forces that marred a previous rally in March.

The Sainte-Soline water reserve is the second of 16 such installations, part of a project developed by a group of 400 farmers organised in a water cooperative to significantly reduce mains water usage in summer.

Protesters hold a banner reading “Agro-industry cooperatives are attempting to help themselves to water” during the protest. (Photo by Pascal Lachenaud / AFP) 

The open-air craters, covered with a plastic tarpaulin, are filled by pumping water from surface groundwater in winter and can store up to 650,000 square metres of water.

This water is used for irrigation in summer, when rainfall is scarcer.

Opponents claim the “megabasins” are wrongly reserved for large export-oriented grain farms and deprive the community of access to the essential resource.

 
 

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STRIKES

France faces huge disruption as pension protests kick off

France woke up to a day of paralysis on Tuesday with transport blockages, mass strikes and demonstrations hitting the country for the second time in a month to protest a planned reform to raise the retirement age.

France faces huge disruption as pension protests kick off

Around one million people are expected to take to the streets nationwide, a police source told AFP, rallying against plans to boost the age of retirement from 62 to 64.

Some 11,000 police were mobilised across the country, with 4,000 deployed in Paris where several hundred extremist troublemakers were expected, according to the interior ministry.

France currently has the youngest age for becoming a pensioner in any major European economy.

On January 19, some 1.1 million voiced their opposition to the proposed shake-up — the largest protests since the last major round of pension reform in 2010.

Millions had to find alternative means of transport Tuesday, work from home or take time off to look after their school-age children, with workers in transport and education sectors among those staging walkouts.

“This is about more than pensions, it is about what kind of society we want,” 59-year-old university professor Martine Beugnet told AFP, saying she would take part in Tuesday’s protest.

Most Paris metro and suburban rail services were severely restricted, the capital’s transport operator RATP said.

Intercity travel was also disrupted, with just one in three high-speed trains likely to run, railway company SNCF predicted.

‘Get another train’ 

In the southwestern city of Bordeaux, Cheikh Sadibou Tamamate, 36, arrived at the train station in the small hours of Tuesday, hoping to catch a morning train to Paris after the one he was booked on around 5:00 am (0400 GMT) never left.

“Unfortunately it was cancelled,” he said.

Sitting on a bench with an open laptop Guillaume Chaux, 32, said he discovered his train had been cancelled as he arrived at the station, but he still hoped to make it to London Tuesday.

“I’m looking at travel apps to see if I can get another train. Nobody has told me anything,” he said.

Air travel is to be less badly affected, with national carrier Air France saying it would cancel one in 10 short and medium-haul services, but long-distance flights would be unaffected.

Only minor disruptions were expected on international train services including the Eurostar.

Around half of all nursery and primary school teachers would be striking, the main teachers’ union Snuipp-FSU said.

France’s oil industry was mostly paralysed, with the hardleft CGT union at energy giant TotalEnergies reporting between 75 and 100 percent of workers on strike.

‘Non-negotiable’

Sixty-one percent of French people support the protest movement, a new poll by the OpinionWay survey group showed on Monday — a rise of three percentage points from January 12.

The most controversial part of the overhaul is hiking the minimum retirement age.

But the changes are also to increase the number of years people have to make contributions before they can receive a full pension.

President Emmanuel Macron put pensions reform at the heart of his re-election campaign last year.

The 45-year-old centrist on Monday said the changes were “essential when we compare ourselves to the rest of Europe”, where people typically retire later.

He insists they are necessary to guarantee the future financing of the pension system, which is forecast to tip into deficit in the next few years.

But opponents point out that the system is currently balanced, quoting the head of the independent Pensions Advisory Council as saying: “Pension spending is not out of control, it’s relatively contained.”

The government has signalled there could be wiggle room on some of the suggested measures, but Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has said raising the age of retirement was “non-negotiable”.

Parliament committees started examining the bill on Monday, where Macron and his allies also face an uphill battle.

The left-wing opposition has submitted more than 7,000 amendments to the draft legislation in a bid to slow its path through parliament.

Macron’s centrist allies, short of an absolute majority, will need votes from conservatives to push through the new legislation.

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