PARIS — Some 2,500 French police tore down flaming barricades and fired tear gas at tenacious squatters Monday as they evacuated a protest camp erected nearly a decade ago to block construction of an airport.
One police officer was hospitalized after being hit in the eye with a flare, but was not in 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 Monday.
Police fired some 50 tear gas grenades at a group of about 30 to 50 activists throwing gasoline 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 globalization.
The French government in January abandoned plans for the airport after 50 years of debate, and gave squatters until spring to clear out.
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 Monday's 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.