Hundreds of French police swooped in at dawn to evict about 15 protesters living in treehouses at a site that is due to be developed to store nuclear waste deep under the earth.
Bulldozers accompanied hundreds of gendarmes in body armour as they removed the men and women who have been occupying a zone in forest of Lejuc near the village of Bure.
Other officers raided a nearby premises dubbed the “House of Resistance” and evicted about 30 protestors.
The area is earmarked to be used to bury long-life nuclear waste from France’s nuclear power stations 500 metres under the ground. Planned exploratory drilling has not been possible because of protests by local groups and environmentalists.
“We don’t want places where there is no law and order in France” ~ Interior Minister Gérard Collomb
The evictions were a surprise move by police coming months after a court order gave the site clearance the green light.
President Emmanuel Macron’s government is keen to prevent a proliferation of such protester-occupation movements following one that lasted years at a site earmarked for a new airport near the city of Nantes – a building plan it dropped last month.
The project at Bure has not yet got final government approval.
Three of the protesters, who sometimes wear bird-like masks and call themselves “owls”, were arrested during the police operation on Thursday. One was detained for attempting to throw incendiary devices at police.
One protester, speaking on the phone from his perch in a tree before police removed him, told AFP news agency:
“We are here because we don’t want the Earth to be poisoned. We are on this old oak tree which has lived far longer than us.”
Bulldozers were demolishing barricades and shacks at the entrance to the Lejuc forest as she spoke.
Benoit Hamon, the Socialist candidate in last year’s French presidential election told French Info Radio:
“I think it would be better to engage dialogue and to take a real interest in what the residents of this area think.”