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French police fire tear gas on protest

00:20 Sun Nov 25 2012

NOTRE-DAME-DES-LANDES, France, Nov 24 AFP - French police have fired tear gas for a second day running as they seek to evict protesting squatters from protected swampland where Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault wants to build a new airport.

Clashes between police and protesters resumed at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, outside the western city of Nantes, as officers fired tear gas and squatters threw stones and glass bottles at them in return.

The squatters had called for a new rally against the airport for Saturday and were expecting to draw thousands of people to the protest.

The crackdown at the 1,650-hectare site began on Friday, when police detained three people amid clashes that wounded two officers, a demonstrator and two television journalists as angry protesters hurled petrol bombs, bottles, stones and firecrackers at police.

Officials said two of those detained were later released.

On Saturday, some 40 police trucks were parked in four columns in the middle of the proposed airport site, where about 500 squatters have set up camp.

Police were clearing the road to the area after protesters blocked it to barricade an impromptu village they set up on November 17 during an initial rally.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls took a tough tone on Friday, saying: "It is out of the question to let a cyst grow" and vowing to do "all we can to ensure the law is respected and construction can start".

The airport north of Nantes, which is scheduled to replace the city's current airport in 2017, is a pet project of Socialist Prime Minister Ayrault, who was the city's mayor from 1989 until this year.

It has been opposed by the Greens and various politicians on environmental grounds, and eco-warrior protesters have set up numerous camps around the area.

The movement has pitted the Socialist government against its environmentalist allies, who have called for President Francois Hollande to name a team of mediators to hold talks on the standoff.

The 580-million-euro ($A722.9 million) project was approved in 2008, with construction expected to start in 2014.

The airport is set to have an initial annual capacity of four million passengers, and supporters say it will provide a major boost to tourism in western France.

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