In Southern France, Police and Activists Clash at Motorway Protest

In Southern France, Police and Activists Clash at Motorway Protest

In Southern France, near the town of Puylaurens, tensions erupted on Saturday as police clashed with activists protesting a motorway project. The demonstration centered around the proposed extension of the A-69 motorway between Castres and Toulouse, with thousands of demonstrators converging despite a ban on the gathering.

According to local officials, the confrontation resulted in five individuals sustaining injuries. Among those injured were a police officer struck by a molotov cocktail and two paramilitary gendarmes. Additionally, two protesters suffered injuries during the clashes.

The protest, organized by the Roue Libre group, drew a significant turnout, with organizers claiming 7,000 activists in attendance. However, the prefecture of the Tarn region disputed this figure, estimating the crowd at 1,600 participants.

The demonstration took a violent turn around 3pm local time when clashes broke out between riot police and what authorities described as "radicalized protesters" attempting to access a main road near the construction site. Riot police deployed tear gas in an attempt to disperse the demonstrators and prevent them from reaching the road.

In response, some protesters launched fireworks and hurled molotov cocktails at the security forces. The prefecture denounced what they termed as "extremely violent attacks with catapults" and highlighted the presence of "1,200 radical individuals" among the protesters who appeared intent on causing damage unrelated to the motorway issue.

The motorway extension project has been a source of contention, with ecologists and left-wing activists opposing it on grounds that it will result in the destruction of wetlands, farmland, trees, and underground water sources. Despite opposition, the project, which commenced at the beginning of 2023, has garnered support from most local elected officials and is scheduled for completion by the end of 2025.

Approximately 1,600 police officers and gendarmes were deployed to manage the protest and maintain order. Amid the clashes, an activist from the climate campaign group Extinction Rebellion affirmed their commitment to halting the motorway project, stating, "As long as we are there, the motorway will not go ahead."

The clashes underscore the deep-seated divisions surrounding the motorway project and the determination of both sides to advance their respective agendas.

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