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French gendarmes clash with environmental protestors over motorway project

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The Local ([email protected])
French gendarmes clash with environmental protestors over motorway project
A protestor faces down French gendarmes as they begin to clear a protest site. (Photo by Valentine CHAPUIS / AFP)

Tensions over the proposed A69 motorway connecting the southern French towns of Castres and Toulouse have once again reached boiling point.

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French law enforcement officers cleared protestors from a temporary camp set-up to block construction works for the new A69 motorway.

Gendarmes fired tear gas and bulldozed barricades with armoured vehicles from about 13h on Sunday in a bid to clear protestors from the site, located in the southern Tarn département. At least 7 arrests have been made.

Environmentalist Thomas Brail, who recently went on hunger strike outside the French Environment Ministry, was among the protestors at the site. In online footage, he appears to be evacuated, unconscious, following the intervention by the gendarmes. 

The clashes on Sunday follow a mass demonstration on Saturday, during which organisers say close to 10,000 people protested against the construction of the A69 road - the government claims the real number of protestors was 4,900. 

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Officials claim that two policemen were "lightly injured" on Saturday and the French Transport Minister said that dozens of "knives, iron bars and pickaxes were confiscated". 

Environmental activists protest against the proposed A69 motorway in southern France on Saturday.

Environmental activists protest against the proposed A69 motorway in southern France on Saturday. (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

The protests and clashes this weekend are the latest in the long-running contestation over the construction of the A69.

The government and some local business leaders insist that the road, which if completed will connect Toulouse and Castres, will help better connect populations in rural parts of the country and boost the regional economy. Environmentalists, scientists and farmers say it is an expensive project that is bad for the environment and biodiversity. 

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The A69 construction has faced more than 10 legal challenges, all of which have been struck down. The government says that given the construction has been approved by MPs democratically elected by the people, it should continue to go ahead despite criticism. It also argues that given construction has already begun, it doesn't make sense to stop. 

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