Climate activist Greta Thunberg on Saturday joined a banned anti-motorway protest where police had fired tear gas and made arrests the previous day.
Ms. Thunberg came as part of a delegation of French, Belgian, Swedish and Spanish activists to the site near the southwestern city of Toulouse.
“We are here to stand in solidarity with the people who are resisting this project and this madness,” Ms. Thunberg told reporters, wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh.
“Unfortunately, these kinds of projects are not unique to France but are happening all over the world and are a symptom of a global crisis,” she said.
A global figure in the fight against climate change, Ms. Thunberg has been fined by one Swedish court for her direct-action protests there.
But she saw another case against her thrown out by an English court last week.
French authorities had banned the gathering in Saix, where a new motorway is planned, because of “risks of serious harm to public order”.
But protest organizers Cabanade had gone ahead with the protest and on Friday, French police fired tear gas and made arrests at the site.
The organisers had hoped for a big turnout Saturday, but only about a hundred showed up under a steady rain.
Police clear barricades
But about 350 metres away, activists had created a so-called “zone to be defended” (ZAD in French) on private land with camp toilets, signposts and cabins.
Police Friday cleared pallets and trolleys used to block a small road running alongside the field, which is close to the route of the planned A69 motorway linking Toulouse and the town of Castres, as well as alongside a rail line.
On Saturday they fired tear gas at the activists but didn’t penetrate into the ZAD itself, which is on private land and not infringing any laws. An AFP photographer saw activists return the tear gas cannisters with tennis rackets.
“A hundred individuals blocked the railway between Toulouse and Castres and placed obstacles on it,” the local prefecture said in a statement. “The individuals had set up three barricades and set one on fire, but the gendarmes managed to reopen the municipal road which had been blocked.”
Environmentalists have protested several times in recent months along the planned route of the A69.
Ms. Thunberg’s presence “allows us to fully inscribe the movement against the A69 at the international and national level,” one the protest’s organizers No Macadam said Friday.
The government is determined to complete the A69 project which will cut travel time between Toulouse and Castres by 20 minutes and should open in 2025.
“Dear Greta Thunberg, the A69 autoroute responds to a vital need for the Tarn and its inhabitants,” the president of the local Tarn department said Friday.