Clashes as thousands protest against water grabbing by French agribusiness

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Thousands of protesters on Saturday defied an official ban on demonstrations against the deployment of new water storage infrastructure for agricultural irrigation in western France, with some clashing with police.

Clashes between paramilitary gendarmes and demonstrators broke out, with Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin reporting that 61 officers had been injured, 22 of them seriously.

“Bassines Non Merci”, which organized the protest, said around 30 protesters were injured. Among them, 10 required treatment and three were hospitalized.

The pressure group brings together environmental associations, trade unions and anti-capitalist groups against what it describes as “water grabbing” by “agribusiness” in western France.

Local officials said six people were arrested during the protest and 4,000 people showed up for the banned demonstration. Organizers estimate attendance at 7,000 people.

The deployment of giant water “basins” is underway in the village of Sainte-Soline, in the Deux-Sèvres department, to irrigate crops, which opponents say distorts access to water by drought period.

About 1,500 police officers have been deployed, according to the prefect of the Deux-Sèvres department Emmanuelle Dubée.

Dubee said on Friday that she had wanted to limit possible “acts of violence”, referring to clashes between protesters and security forces that marred a previous rally in March.

The Sainte-Soline water reserve is the second of 16 facilities of this type, part of a project developed by a group of 400 farmers organized into a water cooperative to significantly reduce city water consumption in summer. .

The open craters, covered with plastic sheeting, are filled by pumping water from surface groundwater in winter and can store up to 650,000 square meters of water.

This water is used for irrigation in the summer, when rainfall is scarcer.

Opponents claim that the “mega-basins” are wrongly reserved for large export-oriented grain farms and deprive the community of access to the essential resource.

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