October 1, 2023

France to shut down climate protest group citing public safety risks

3 min read

The French government is to shut down a climate protest group over a series of recent demonstrations citing risks to public safety, as the environmental activists called the decision “political and particularly worrying”.

Les Soulèvements de la Terre (Earth Uprising) is an umbrella group of several different environmental activist associations across France. It is seen as leading a new form of more radical climate action in Europe with high-profile direct action often aimed at big business interests, state projects and large-scale farming.

The group was part of a demonstration over a controversial irrigation project in Sainte-Soline, western France, in March that led to fierce clashes with police. Around 5,000 protesters battled with more than 3,000 police officers. Two protesters were left in a coma afterwards, while around 30 officers were injured.

The demonstrators were protesting against a giant reservoir for storing water pumped up from the underground water table, saying it would hurt smaller farmers and the ecosystem, while benefiting mainly industrial agriculture groups.

France’s Human Rights League said after the protests that “as soon as the demonstrators arrived at the reservoir site, police fired at them with weapons of war: teargas grenades, stun grenades, explosive sting-ball grenades and rubber bullets … the deployment put everyone present at risk of serious harm”.

Earlier this month, UN experts urged France to review its policing practices, expressing concern at the “reported excessive use of force” against protesters, in particular at Sainte-Soline.

This month Les Soulèvements de la Terre led protests against a sand quarry in western France where protesters tore up fields and equipment at a farm. The group was also one of several organisers of a banned demonstration at the weekend against a new rail link between the eastern city of Lyon and Turin in Italy.

On Tuesday, prosecutors said they detained 14 people for questioning over vandalism at an earlier protest supported by Les Soulèvements de la Terre, against a Lafarge cement plant near the southern city of Marseille.

The interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, confirmed in parliament on Tuesday that the group would be shut down, saying “no cause justifies the injuring of police officers and gendarmes”.

The government spokesman, Olivier Véran, accused the coalition of encouraging violence at the Sainte-Soline irrigation protest in March. “You don’t dissolve an association because of its ideas,” Véran told CNews television. “You dissolve it because there is violence or a risk for public safety.”

Véran said the group “whipped up violence at Sainte-Soline by inviting rioters, who came from across Europe with metal bars and pétanque balls to try to kill police officers”.

He said: “The climate question does not justify throwing rocks at police in a field.”

The dissolution of Les Soulèvements de la Terre was officially launched by the interior ministry just after the Sainte-Soline clashes in March, using powers that have been previously used to outlaw far-right and Islamist groups.

The group said in a statement on Tuesday that the agricultural and food industry as well as the farmers’ union had leant directly on the government to issue a ban. In a statement, the group said: “Trying to silence the Soulèvements de la Terre is a vain attempt to break the thermometer instead of worrying about the temperature.”

The decree to ban the group will be presented at the government’s weekly cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

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