Happily, the excellent Hervé Kempf, formerly of Le Monde, has written a very fair report of events on the day, which I entirely endorse, saving me a job here.
As far as I know M. Kempf doesn't actually live in Nantes, so I'll just add that I share the view of some quoted in his article that the tactics of the authorities towards the demonstration on Saturday were:
a) unprecedented: every Nantes demo I have seen has gone up the cours de 50 Ôtages, so to place a great barrier and a water cannon to prevent this is an obvious provocation: it's like banning a big Edinburgh march from Princes Street, or Londoners from Trafalgar Square; and
b) entirely counterproductive to the maintenance of public order. As I have observed in the comments to the YouTube video embedded below, which shows some time lapse footage of this point of confrontation between riot police and demonstrators, the authorities evidently wished to provoke this violence. Of course the threat of violence is an effective way of reducing the size of demonstrations (for example, though, like me, squarely against the proposed airport, Mme. Beezer et fils were understandably reluctant to turn out for their corporal punishment by the state, a reluctance I endorsed). It might be an effective tactic on the part of the authorities, but it's a grave stain on their purported democratic credentials.
This debacle has reportedly resulted in at least six injured police officers, and a young demonstrator losing an eye. I myself don't appreciate being teargassed as I peacefully express my political views on a matter of legitimate public concern.
They're backing a loser though: I really don't know anyone here who's in favour of the proposed airport, and what poll data I've seen suggests that this is because very few people are. The so-called pro-airport demo a few months back was pitifully small, and all this "silent majority" stuff they're coming out with is frankly, nonsense. (That was a ruder word in the first draft). And don't forget that the natural pro-airport constituency (like, I regret to say, frequent flyer Mme Beezer) are pretty happy with the existing airport, which is actually part of Nantes, and easy to get to, like, if you want to go to and from Nantes (duh!), and would be even better (e.g. requisite 1.2k of tramway connected +/or direct rail) if it hadn't had the ridiculous 40 year planning blight hanging over the 30k-away-and-no-public-transport airport on offer following any "transfer" to NDDL.
The insane persistence of the authorities in the pursuit of this project, which if it ever made sense when first mooted in 1967, is, in 2014, quite clearly SHEER BLOODY FOLLY. The chaos in the centre of Nantes this Saturday was the result of the ineptly provocative tactics on the part of the authorities and the man responsible, Prefet Christian de Lavernée, should resign. Must we really wait for the political figures who have most invested in the project to be sacked, retire or die before the plan is cancelled? Or will they see reason? I trust that comparisons with recent events in the Ukraine are inappropriate...
"@AnonOpsLegion: #Kiev? No, it's #Nantes yesterday -- pic.twitter.com/Qz3k4GToBx"Update 14:45h Tue 25 Feb 2014: According to today's local papers (Presse Ocean, Ouest France) more than 100 people were injured, of whom ten police officers and twenty demonstrators required hospital admission. The most severely injured person was a 29 year old man who reportedly lost his left eye to a flashball fired by a police officer. The cost of the clean-up is estimated at €1million euros.
— MarinaZetay (@Marinamas) February 23, 2014
And while we're here, a wee note on the media coverage:
The establishment media seem to have dutifully devoted multipage spreads to the violence and damage to property, happily enabling them to avoid the rather awkward facts of the debate proper:
a) reputable surveys show that the majority is against the airport;
b) the enormous €266million subsidy the project requires;
c) the authorities' lawbreaking with respect to legislation on water, the environment, and endangered species;
d) the effect of aviation emissions on climate change targets, and future kerosene price trends.
Update Mon 14 Apr 2014: The number of demonstrators losing an eye to a headshot from a flashball has now risen to three. As a James Bond villain once observed, "Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, but three times is enemy action." In other words, one or two such injuries might be explained by bad luck or negligence, but the third is strongly suggestive of malice. Charges have, rightly, been filed. Ce n'est pas fini, as the French say.