Europe 1 with AFP 14:19 p.m., March 25, 2023

This Saturday, a new banned demonstration against the project of "basins" in Sainte-Soline in the Deux-Sèvres quickly turned into a confrontation. Several gendarmerie vehicles were set on fire. According to the prefecture, at least 6,000 protesters would be present at the site.

A new banned demonstration against the basins, which have become the symbol of tensions around water, gives rise to violent clashes Saturday in the Deux-Sèvres, where thousands of people converged including many radical activists. A long procession began to march in the late morning, composed of at least 6,000 people according to the prefecture and about 25,000 according to the organizers - the collective of associations "Bassines non merci", the environmental movement of the Earth Uprisings and the Peasant Confederation.

More than 3,000 gendarmes and police officers have been mobilized by the authorities, while "at least a thousand" violent activists, partly from abroad including Italy, "ready to fight with the police", are present. The demonstration, banned like the last one in the fall, converged on the "basin" of Sainte-Soline, nickname given by their opponents to these water reserves under construction in the region for agricultural irrigation.

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"The goal is to approach and surround the basin to stop the work," said a member of the Earth Uprisings at the start of the procession, which then split into several groups for this purpose. As we approached the construction site, defended by the police, violent clashes broke out quickly with radical militants, with multiple projectiles, mortar and explosives thrown on one side; tear gas and water cannon on the other, according to AFP journalists.

Around 13:30 p.m., the surroundings of the basin looked like a scene of war, with many detonations, observed from afar, and to the sound of bandas, most of the demonstrators remained peaceful. Several gendarmerie vehicles caught fire under the cheers of some. No assessment has been provided for the moment but calls to the "medics" began to be heard and the gendarmerie released the image of a photographer wounded in the head.

"Confronting it"

"While the country rises up to defend pensions, we will simultaneously stand up to defend water," claim the organizers, who have set up a camp a few kilometers from Sainte-Soline, in the commune of Vanzay, on the edge of the perimeter of prohibition. "Do not fall into violence, the real violence is that of the state," had previously launched to the crowd Julien Le Guet, spokesman for "Bassines non merci", under a judicial control that deprives him of demonstration.

The security device is twice as important as at the last demonstration. "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 said Friday on Cnews. Weapons had been seized before the gathering - petanque balls, slingshots, incendiary products, knives and axes according to the gendarmerie - and 11 people arrested, seven of whom are currently in custody, according to the Niort prosecutor's office.

Several elected representatives EELV and LFI demonstrate Saturday, while observers of police practices mandated by the League of Human Rights must "document the maintenance of order" during the weekend.


The Sainte-Soline basin is part of a set of 16 reservoirs, with a total capacity of about six million cubic meters, to be built as part of a project led by a cooperative of 450 farmers, supported by the state but long contested.

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

Its cost of 70 million euros is 70% financed by public funds in exchange for the adoption of agroecological practices by the beneficiaries, a vain promise according to opponents who denounce a "grabbing" of water by "agribusiness" at a time of climate change.

"There is only 6% of the useful agricultural area that is irrigated in France and there are 100% of farmers who suffer from drought," Nicolas Girod, spokesman for the Confédération paysanne, said Saturday on RMC.

The Minister of Agriculture, Marc Fesneau, defended on France Inter an "exemplary" project in terms of agricultural "sobriety".