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Hollande announces referendum on divisive airport project

AFP | French President François Hollande before a primetime television interview on February 11, 2016

French President François Hollande on Thursday said that a local referendum would decide the fate of a controversial airport project in Western France, hours after three Green lawmakers joined his cabinet as part of a government reshuffle.

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Hollande said that after long public debate and a string of legal battles over the construction of a regional airport in Notre-Dame-des-Landes, local residents would have the final say during a referendum that would be organised by October.

“If it’s yes, and the residents want the airport, then everyone will have to accept that decision,” Hollande declared during a primetime television interview with France 2 and TF1. “If it’s no – we all know that it is a project that has been spearheaded by the government, the government will have to assume the consequences."

Environmental and farming groups in the town 20kms north of the city of Nantes have fervently opposed the new airport development, while other residents and business groups have welcomed the project, which was approved in 2008 at a cost of approximately 500 million euros.

Hollande rejected the suggestion that the referendum had been part of a deal with Green Party chief Emmanuelle Cosse, who joined his cabinet as housing minister on Thursday and who could help endear the president to environmentalists ahead of his likely bid for re-election in 2017.

"There was no haggling. I do not negotiate, I do not barter this or that government appointment, or this or that resignation,” he insisted.

The announcement of the referendum was part of a wide-ranging interview in which Hollande called on Russia to halt military action that supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The French president repeated a previous promise that he would not run for a second  term if unemployment continued to rise.

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