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Opponents of controversial Nantes airport protest against expulsion

media Opponents of the project for the creation of the international airport Notre-Dame-des-Landes near Nantes demonstrate on the peripheral road of Nantes, western France, on January 9, 2015. JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD / AFP

Opponents of the government's plans to build a new airport in the northwestern city of Nantes, demonstrated in their hundreds on Saturday, against legal proceedings to evict inhabitants from the planned construction site. The demonstration mobilized 20,000 people according to organizers, whereas the police put it down as only 7,200.

It was the largest demonstration by opponents of a controversial airport project in Nantes, since February last year.

They came in their hundreds by bike, tractors and on foot to express their anger after several families were slapped with an eviction order to leave the site of the future runway.

The farmers and their families are being asked to go by giant construction firm Vinci, which is in charge of building the controversial airport at Notre-Dames-des-Landes, in west France.

A full hearing before judges at Nantes is scheduled for January 13th.

The farmers, some of whose families have been on the same land for generations, are refusing to go.

And on Saturday, thousands of activists and sympathizers took over Nante's main highway to support them in their resistance.

People at Nantes have been opposed to plans to build a new airport for over three decades.

Construction on the 580-million-euro project has been delayed several times. It is scheduled for opening next year, and aims at replacing the current Nantes Atlantique Airport, which only has a capacity of 3 million passengers.

The Aéroport du Grand Ouest wants to increase that number to 9 million by 2050, and become an international gateway for western France.

Critics argue that the current airport can be modernized and say they're concerned about the carbon and climate implications of a new airport.

One month on from the Paris Climate Conference, it's an argument which is gaining traction.

Even François Hollande's former special envoy for the planet Nicolas Hulot said on Saturday that "Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport is one of those projects we should abandon," he told French daily Le Monde.

As for Saturday's demonstration, it looks set to continue: demonstrators have vowed to occupy the main motorways in Nantes until the government backs down on its expulsion plans.

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