PARIS (AP) — French police and environmental activists fought violent pitched battles Saturday around a giant agricultural irrigation reservoir in rural western France.
The interior minister reported more than 30 people injured and said police detonated more than 4,000 non-lethal dispersion grenades as they fended off hundreds of protesters, some armed with machetes, axes and gasoline bombs.
The clashes around the reservoir being built in the rural community of Sainte-Soline highlighted increasing pressure on precious water resources in the face of climate change.
French authorities argue that giant irrigation reservoirs are necessary to allow farmers to continue growing food crops when droughts are becoming more common. Critics say the reservoirs sustain ecologically unsustainable types of industrial farming and imprison water that would otherwise naturally irrigate soils and feed rivers and streams.
Video footage showed protesters advancing in clouds of tear gas, police vehicles burning and people hurling projectiles at police lines.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said two critically injured people — one of them a police officer, the other a protester — were transported by helicopter for hospital treatment.
He said 23 police officers and six demonstrators suffered lighter injuries.
But protest organizers said they counted some 200 injured demonstrators, and that about 40 of them had deep cuts they said were caused by police projectiles.
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