Nearly 2,500 riot police raided an abandoned airport site to remove some 250 anti-capitalist squatters at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, near the western city of Nantes.
The French authorities said the primary goal was to regain control over a key road which has remained blocked for five years and evict nearly 100 "of the most radical" squatters from the total of about 250.
The protesters have been fighting authorities' plan of building an over US$510 million airport on the site, which has irked the local communities for several decades, including the farmers who were asked to clear the farmland.
The police fired tear gas to disperse dozens of protesters who threw rocks and flares, at them. According to the interior ministry, one police officer was injured in the process.
The organizers diffused an alert to inform the squatters, as they burned barricades of tires, wooden pallets, hay bales and electricity poles to keep the police from entering the site. Around 70 police buses encircled the 4,080-acre site.
By mid-day, Monday, at least 10 of some 97 squats on the site were dismantled, with one person arrested for throwing a firebomb while six people living in one of the shelters were also evicted. A watchtower, which the activists build to guard their terrain, was also dismantled, regional security official Nicole Klein told reporters, according to AFP.
One of the activists, Camille, voiced her anger and told the AFP, "It's unacceptable that the government is chasing people from their homes."
The squatters, who had occupied the site for almost a decade in a bid to prevent the authorities from building the airport, have been experimenting with autonomous living to create an alternative way of life. The eclectic group of people comprise of anti-capitalists, environmental defenders, and squatters, known as Zadists, who joined a handful of farmers on the site in 2008, the Guardian reported.
Many of these squatters had abandoned their temporary tents, caravans for permanent homes, shacks, and cabins. They occupied abandoned farms, planted the land around and made the area habitable which had a boulangerie, a brewery, a pirate radio station, an online newspaper and a weekly vegetable market.
"The squatters and the farmers here are building something extraordinary, something that goes back to the simple life of our grandparents," a squatter told the Guardian. "We are able to produce what we need, and we don’t need a lot."
The eviction process is expected to take a few days.