Up to 10,000 people are expected around Sainte-Soline, where one of these reservoirs dedicated to agricultural irrigation is under construction, five months after a previous rally punctuated by clashes.

The construction site, briefly invaded by demonstrators at the end of October, is protected by a double row of fences two meters high, and its accesses defended by roadblocks.

The prefecture again banned the demonstration, organized by the collective "Bassines non merci", the environmental movement of the Earth Uprisings and the Peasant Confederation.

"There is a very large mobilization of the far left and those who want to attack the gendarmes and maybe kill gendarmes and kill institutions," Darmanin told Cnews.

According to the prefect of Deux-Sèvres, Emmanuelle Dubée, "about 1,500 radical activists", from France and abroad, could mingle with the demonstrators, who remained mostly peaceful in the autumn.

Hundreds of them have already carried out "actions" Friday afternoon, according to her, attacking two gendarmerie roadblocks and managing to briefly enter a TGV track. A simple "diversion" to allow the convoy of tractors to bypass the police device, according to the demonstrators.

The sixteen "basins" planned for the Sèvre Niortaise © Cléa PÉCULIER / AFP

Weapons were seized ahead of the rally - petanque balls, slingshots, incendiary products, knives, axes, detailed the regional commander of the gendarmerie, Samuel Dubuis.

The precise location of the demonstration was still unclear, the organizers targeting the "basin" of Sainte-Soline "and / or" the one that already works in Mauzé-sur-le-Mignon.


They are part of a set of 16 reservoirs, with a total capacity of about six million cubic meters, which are to be built as part of a project carried out since 2018 by a cooperative of 450 farmers, and supported by the State.

It aims to store water drawn from surface aquifers in winter, in order to irrigate crops in summer when rainfall is scarce. Its supporters make it a condition for the survival of farms in the face of the threat of recurrent droughts.

Protesters arrive by tractor at their base camp in Vanze, near Sainte-Soline, on March 24, 2023 in the Deux-Sèvres © department THIBAUD MORITZ / AFP

Opponents denounce a "grabbing" of water by "agribusiness" at a time of climate change, and demand a moratorium on their construction to launch "a real territorial project" on the "sharing of water".

The connection to the basins is conditional on the adoption of practices oriented towards agroecology, highlight the former, but the latter denounce empty promises: the debate has long turned into a dialogue of the deaf.

"While the country rises up to defend pensions, we will simultaneously stand up to defend water," the organizers said Friday, after setting up a camp a few kilometers from the site, on private land outside the perimeter of prohibition.

Protesters arrive at their base camp in Vanze, near Sainte-Soline, on March 24, 2023 in Deux-Sèvres © THIBAUD MORITZ / AFP

Dozens of tractors and "thousands" of demonstrators, according to organizers, arrived Friday, some in vehicles with hidden license plates and many groups hooded and dressed in black, AFP journalists found.

The situation has long been tense in the region, but has worsened in recent days, despite calls for calm, with the sabotage of an agricultural water reservoir in Charente and the ransacking of the house of an environmental activist in Charente-Maritime by farmers.

Elected representatives EELV and LFI planned to demonstrate on Saturday, as well as independent observers of police practices mandated by the League of Human Rights to "document the maintenance of order" during the weekend.

© 2023 AFP