French Police Clash With Protesters Opposed to Farm Reservoir

French Police Clash With Protesters Opposed to Farm Reservoir
A gendarmerie vehicle burns during a demonstration called by the collective "Bassines Non Merci" against the "basins" on the construction site of new water storage infrastructure for agricultural irrigation in western France, in Sainte-Soline, France, on March 25, 2023. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

SAINTE-SOLINE, France—Several people were injured on Saturday following clashes between French police and protesters opposed to a large water reservoir for farm irrigation, despite a ban on gatherings in the area.

Police fired tear gas to repel some protesters who threw fireworks and other projectiles as they crossed fields to approach the construction area in the western rural district of Sainte-Soline. At least three police vehicles were set alight, television footage showed.

Two protesters were seriously hurt, including one who is in a critical condition after suffering a head injury, as well as 16 police officers, the local prefecture said. One officer was evacuated by helicopter.

Thousands of protesters had converged on the site of the planned reservoir, where a similar protest last October also turned violent.

Emmanuelle Dubee, the prefect of the surrounding region, said around 1,000 radical individuals were expected among an estimated 6,000 protesters.

Around 3,200 police were deployed for the demonstration, said Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said, who blamed far-left groups for the violence.

The heavy police presence included helicopters and squads riding quads.

The protest over the irrigation project comes after weeks of demonstrations in France against a pension reform that have turned violent since the government pushed through the legislation without a final parliamentary vote.

France’s worst drought on record last summer sharpened the debate over water resources in the European Union’s biggest agricultural sector.

Supporters say artificial reservoirs are a way to use water efficiently when needed, while critics—who call them “mega-basins”—argue they are outsized and favor large farms.