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Economy

Thousands gather for anti-airport protest that highlights splits in French government

media Protesters and police face off at Notre-Dame-des-Landes Reuters/Stephane Mahe

Thousands of people are gathered in western France Wednesday for a demonstration against plans to build a new airport near the city of Nantes, the home base of Socialist Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. The plan has opened divisions in the ruling coalition with MPs from the Green party, EELV, promising to join the protesters.

Around 10,000 farmers, former residents, ecologists, politicians and local officials are to rally in Notre-Dame-des-Landes to "reoccupy" the 1,700 hectares of agricultural land

Parliamentary elections 2012

where the airport is to be built.

Hard-left former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon was set to join the protesters, as were Green presidential candidate Eva Joly and other members of her EELV party.

Their presence has added to debate about whether they can remain in the government.  EELV MPs voted against endorsing the European fiscal pact and have criticised other aspects of government policy. 

Ayrault, who was mayor of Nantes from 1989 until he became prime minister, is an enthusiastic supporter of the airport.

The airport project’s supporters believe it is necessary to replace the Nantes Atlantiques, which they say has reached saturation point and is poorly situated.

Opponents say the 550-million euro project, which allows the Vinci company control for 55 years, is ecologically harmful and unnecessarily expensive and that Nantes Atlantiques could be expanded.

Work on transport access is due to start in 2013 and on building the airport itself in 2014.

For several months about 150 anti-capitalist campaigners, some from Spain and Germany, have been camping in disused farmhouses, cabins and tree houses on the site.

There have been several clashes with the police.

Local officials said that police would not try and stop the rally, which was not banned, but would intervene if the law was broken.

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