French police start evacuating eco-activitists in woods near Nantes

French police have used teagas during a raid in Notre-Dame-des-Landes to evict about 250 activists who have occupied the site of an abandoned airport project for 10 years

French police have used teargas as they try to evict environmental activists from a wooded site in western France where a new airport was to be built.

About 2,500 riot police made a pre-dawn raid in Notre-Dame-des-Landes to evict about 250 activists, who built makeshift barricades and set some ablaze.

In January the government scrapped the controversial project to build a new airport near the city of Nantes.

Local politicians had hoped the new hub would boost the region's economy.

The squatters have occupied the site for 10 years to prevent the airport from being built, but refused to leave after the plans were dropped earlier this year, saying they sought to construct an alternative way of life.

The government had warned they would be evicted and carried out this threat on Monday morning.

Many of the squatters had abandoned their tents and caravans and built permanent homes, shacks and cabins, or had occupied abandoned farms, making them habitable and planting the land around.

About 2,500 gendarmes were deployed for the eviction, which began at 06:00.

Some protesters threw stones and other projectiles at the gendarmes, AFP news agency reported. One gendarme suffered an eye injury in the confrontation.

An attempt in 2012 failed to dislodge settlers of what is called the ZAD – zone d’aménagement différée (zone for future development) officially and zone à défendre (zone to defend) to protesters.

Gérard Collomb, the French interior minister, said police would remain “for as long as necessary” to ensure the site was not reoccupied.

He said those evicted would be offered alternative accommodation. “Nobody will be left on the street,” Collomb said.

The eviction operation is expected to last several days.

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