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French government drops divisive airport plan after years of protests

AFP file photo | Environmental and farming groups in the town of Notre-Dame-des-Landes have fervently opposed the new airport development as it is set to be built on protected swampland.

France’s government said Wednesday it was shelving plans to build a new airport in the west of the country, ending a dispute that has prompted nearly a decade of sometimes violent protests.

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In an avidly awaited announcement in France, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the "stiff opposition" made it impossible to proceed with the proposed new airport near the bustling city of Nantes, adding: "The project is therefore abandoned."

Instead, Philippe said existing airports in Nantes and the Breton city of Rennes would be expanded to meet the growing demand for air transport in the region.

President Emmanuel Macron, who took office in May, promised a quick decision after years of indecision and political squabbles over the development. The issue has poisoned French politics and spawned a hardline protest movement.

Fierce opposition

Prior to the announcement, police deployed extra forces to the airport’s proposed site of Notre-Dame-des-Landes, 20 kilometres north of Nantes, where protesters have been camping out for years in a bid to halt the project.

Proponents of the airport have long argued that the region needs a larger hub to boost its economic prospects, while opponents say the airport is unnecessary and a symbol of exploitative globalisation.

Farmers trying to protect their land have joined forces with environmental activists and anarchists groups, who call themselves ZADists, based on the French acronym for "development zone."

An initial attempt, in the autumn of 2012, to evict the squatters ended in violent clash between hundreds of riot police and activists hurling sticks, stones and gasoline bombs. Subsequent attempts also ended in failure.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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