Protestors removed from A69 motorway project site in south-west France

Police removed environmentalists before they could set up an ‘occupation zone’

The hugely controversial motorway project has seen a number of protests since construction began
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A fresh wave of protesters were dispersed from construction sites on the A69 motorway at the weekend (October 21-22) after clashes between demonstrators and police.

The protesters were removed on Sunday afternoon, allowing construction work to begin again, the prefect of the Tarn department, Michel Vilbois, announced.

Clashes between demonstrators and officers led to nine arrests and six police officers were “slightly injured,” Mr Vilbois added.

Protesters had attempted to set up a ‘ZAD’ (Zone à défendre) at one of the construction sites, which the police were called in to clear.

The A69 motorway, which will run between Toulouse and Castres, has been the site of extensive protests by environmentalist groups, who believe the road’s construction will destroy wildlife habitats in the area.

Read more: Controversial new motorway project resumes in southwest France

Protesters fail to set up a ‘ZAD’

The most recent demonstration saw environmental protestors attempt to create a so-called ‘ZAD’ to rally those against the motorway’s construction.

These zones are set up by environmental protestors at sites where they believe construction projects are harmful to the local environment.

Read more: Explainer: What is a ZAD land zone and where are they in France?

The local prefecture said around 2,400 people turned up on Sunday to march to protest the motorway’s construction.

Organisers say the figure was closer to 10,000.

Some radical ecologists remained on-site after the march and attempted to set up a ZAD nearby, using an old building close to the site as a base.

They nicknamed the place ‘la Crémzad’, a portmanteau of la Crémade (the name of the field) and ZAD.

Police were quick to respond and soon after Sunday’s march finished an ‘anti-ZAD cell’ entered the area to disperse the remaining environmentalists before they could entrench themselves.

Up to 1,600 officers were deployed to clear the site, with protesters alleging they used tear gas to clear people both before and during clashes.

Read more: MAP: See where in France motorways are currently planned

What next for the motorway?

Construction on the 53km road has begun again, although the project is still far from being completed.

Numerous protests – which also come from local residents who are against the construction – have delayed the construction.

Organisers say they will continue to protest and believe public opinion is shifting against the motorway.

“Olivier Faure [the leader of France’s Socialist Party] has said that the project has to be stopped,” said Bernard Cottaz-Cordier from environmentalist group La voie est libre.

He also said that the French Communist Party has shifted its position on the road. From originally “keeping its distance” from the row, it is “now talking about the project stopping,”.

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