New violent clashes rock France in water protest

Several protesters and members of security forces wounded in clashes


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Published: Sat 25 Mar 2023, 11:47 PM

French police again clashed with protesters on Saturday as campaigners sought to stop the construction of reservoirs in the southwest, the latest in a series of violent standoffs as social tensions erupt nationwide.

The violent scenes in Sainte-Soline in western France came after days of violent protests nationwide over President Emmanuel Macron's pension reform that prompted the cancellation of a visit by King Charles III of the UK.

The protest movement against the pension reform have turned into the biggest domestic crisis of Macron's second mandate, with daily clashes in the streets of Paris and other cities between police and protesters.

Several protesters and members of security forces were wounded in the clashes around Saite-Soline as campaigners sought to stop the construction of reservoirs for the agricultural industry, according to the authorities.

A long procession set off late morning, comprising at least 6,000 people according to local authorities and around 25,000 according to the organisers.

More than 3,000 members of the security forces were deployed, with "at least 1,000" potentially violent activists, including some from Italy, present, officials said.

Around the construction site, defended by the police, violent clashes quickly broke out between the security forces and radical militants, AFP correspondents said.

Simultaneously stand up

Multiple projectiles and improvised explosives were thrown by protesters, with police responding with tear gas and water cannon.

Two protesters were seriously wounded, including one who was hospitalised with a brain injury, the authorities said.

Sixteen members of the security forces were wounded, six of whom were hospitalised regionally and one of whose injuries were so serious he was evacuated by helicopter.

"While the country is rising up to defend pensions, we will simultaneously stand up to defend water," said the organisers gathering under the banner of "Bassines non merci" ("No to reservoirs, thank you").

Eleven people were detained after police seized cold weapons, including petanque balls and meat knives, as well as explosives.

While not directly related to the anti-pensions reform campaign, the clashes over the water reservoir construction have added to tensions in an increasingly challenging situation for the government.

The cancellation of Charles' state visit -- which was to be his very first abroad as monarch -- was a major embarrassment for Macron and acknowledgement of the seriousness of the situation.

After the worst clashes yet of the three-month movement on Thursday night, protest activity has been less intense in the last 24 hours.

But the government is bracing for another torrid day on Tuesday when unions are due to hold another day of strikes and protests.

This would have been the second full day of Charles' visit, which now must find a new date in his packed calendar. Instead, Germany will be his first foreign destination as a monarch.

The scenes in France have sparked astonishment abroad. "Chaos reigns in France," said the Times of London above a picture of rubbish piling up. "Macron surrenders to the mob," said the mass-circulation Daily Mail over the cancellation of the king's visit.

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