French police clash with protesters opposed to farm reservoir

SAINTE-SOLINE, France (Reuters) – Police in western France clashed with protesters on Saturday opposed to the creation of a large water reservoir for farm irrigation.

Thousands of protesters converged on the site of the planned reservoir in the rural district of Sainte-Soline, where a similar protest last October resulted in injuries.

Opponents marched on Saturday in defiance of a ban on gatherings in the Sainte-Soline district.

Emmanuelle Dubee, the prefect of the surrounding region, said around a thousand radical individuals were expected among the protesters who were thought to total at least 6,000.

Police fired tear gas to repel some protesters who threw fireworks and other projectiles as they crossed fields to approach the fenced-off construction area. At least two police vehicles caught fire, television footage showed.

The government had deployed over 3,000 police for the demonstration, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

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 argue they are outsized and favour large farms.

(Reporting by Yves Herman and Marco Trujillo; Writing by Gus Trompiz; Editing by Mike Harrison)