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French government tries to quell new crisis after anti-dam protester’s death

media A protest after Rémi Fraisse's death in the southern city of Albi on Monday AFP

French President François Hollande appealed for calm on Tuesday as Green campaigners slammed his Socialist government over the death of a demonstrator during protests against the construction of a dam in south-west France.

An autopsy on Monday found that 21-year-old Rémi Fraisse, who had joined the protest at Sivens in the Tarn region, was the victim of an explosion in his back, without establishing whether it was due to a stun grenade fired by police or a Molotov cocktail thrown by fellow protesters.

There were protests on Monday in about 10 French towns, with shop windows smashed and other damage caused in Nantes, near the site of a protest at plans to build an airport that has seen many clashes with police.

Green MEP José Bové, who was present at the Sivens protest on Saturday, accused the authorities of trying to provoke confrontation to “discredit the movement” and declared that Interior Minister Benard Cazeneuve “does not realise what democracy is”.

Former housing minister Cécile Duflot, also a member of the EELV party, declared the death an “indelible stain” on the government’s record, while EELV leader Emanuelle Cosse compared it to that of Malik Oussekine in 1986 - the last time a protester was killed in mainland France, sparking massive protests that rocked the right-wing government of the time.

Hard-left MP André Chassaigne called for work on the dam to be stopped, as did Green MP Noël Mamère, and claimed that police intervention had been “particularly violent”.

Fraisse’s family has filed cases for murder and “violence causing death without the intention to kill” and their lawyer, Arie Alimi, told France Info radio that he suspected police were responsible.

The autopsy had found no burns on the body, he said. “A Molotov cocktail causes burns.”

Hollande on Tuesday called for “calm, outstanding and the rule of law”, telling reporters that he had phoned Fraisse’s father on Tuesday morning to express his condolences and promising that the truth about the death would be established.

Cazeneuve was less restrained, describing Bové’s remarks as “absolutely scandalous” and accusing him of exploiting the tragedy.

After a meeting of the Socialist parliamentary group, spokesperson Hugues Fourage slammed the comparison with Oussekine’s death “unacceptable and irresponsible” and asked whether a project that has been endorsed by the regional council should be scrapped “because a minority wants it to be”.

Public prosecutor Claude Derens, who is handling the case, defended the police, saying they had been moved by an “estremely large and violent group” that included the victim.

The dam, which is 230 metres wide and 13 metres high, will create a reservoir of 1.5 million cubic metres of water.

Critics say it will destroy wetlands that are home to 94 protected species and will serve only 19 big farms.

The project’s backers claim it will serve 81, while a report commissioned by Environment Minister Ségolène Royal puts the figure at 40 and criticises the cost and the failure to look at possible alternatives.

Ecologists took to the streets of the northern city of Amiens on Tuesday to support nine farmers’ union activists on trial for criminal damage to a newly opened megafarm that can house over 1,000 dairy cows, another example of “industrialised agriculture”, according to the defendants.

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