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Clashes as French police evict activists from protest camp

The camp in western France was erected nearly a decade ago to block construction of an airport.

Some 2,500 French police have torn down flaming barricades and fired tear gas at tenacious squatters as they evacuated a protest camp erected nearly a decade ago to block construction of an airport.

One police officer was taken to hospital after being hit in the eye with a flare but was not in a life-threatening condition, according to the national gendarme service.

At least one person was arrested and scattered clashes occurred as police moved into the site in Notre-Dame-des-Landes in western France early on Monday.

An environmental activist faces police officers during clashes in Notre-Dame-des-Landes (Vincent Vinont/AP)

Police fired some 50 tear gas grenades at a group of about 30 to 50 activists throwing petrol bombs, stones and flares at police, according to interior ministry spokesman Frederic Delanouvelle.

Proponents had argued the region needed a larger airport to boost its economic prospects.

Opponents said a new airport was unnecessary and a symbol of exploitative globalisation.

The French government in January abandoned plans for the airport after 50 years of debate and gave squatters until spring to clear out.

Environmental activists amid a cloud of tear gas (Vincent Vinont/AP)

But many stayed in place, seeking to turn it into a “space of social, environmental and agricultural experimentation”.

The gendarme service said about 100 squatters were living at the site when Monday’s operation began, and a few hundred others came to join the protests.

An unlikely combination of environmental activists, farmers and anarchists converged on the camp that sprang up in 2009, seeing it as a symbol of resistance.

The government requisitioned the land from farmers for the airport, but is now offering to return the land to those who want it.

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