French activists protesting agricultural ‘water grab’ defy police

AFP - PASCAL LACHENAUD

Demonstrators continued to protest against a water storage project on Monday in France’s western Deux-Sevres department, creating an encampment that police called “eco-terrorism.”

Some 4,000 people came out on Saturday to stop the farmer initiative, which resulted in violent clashes with police.

Farmers in a 400-strong collective are hoping to build 16 large retention basins for groundwater that would be pumped out during the winter, so it can be used for irrigation in the summer. The area has experienced a severe drought over the past few years.

Climate activists see this as a “water grab” by large agribusiness, which will deprive smaller farmers of water access.

After getting permission from one farmer to set up a protest area, they are currently creating a “village of Gauls” with watchtowers and fences, a reference to the French “Asterix” comic books.

"We fully intend to use them, it will be a base for all types of harassment operations we're going to carry out if the construction continues," said Julien Le Guet, a spokesman for the protest collective.

Protesters wearing masks ripped out a water pipe thought to be used to fill one of the basins—the video was widely circulated on social media.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said Sunday that 1,000 police would remain in the area so that "no ZAD is installed in the Deux-Sevres department nor anywhere else in France."