France: The struggle for a water commons

From lundimatin #376, 27/03/2023 …

What Happened at Sainte-Soline

200 injured, 40 seriously injured, one person between life and death

The rally against the mega-[water] reservoir of Sainte-Soline should have been festive. The defenders of water, who came by the tens of thousands, were to join together to march to the absurd crater, symbol of the monopolisation by a few of a “common good”. There had been threats from the police prefecture, the ban on gathering there and the deployment of 3,200 police agents. Like the previous time, on October 29 and 30, we were counting on the audacity, cunning and inventiveness of the movement to thwart the ridiculous police siege of a hole. Three processions and their totems set off, turquoise eels, yellow otters, pink bustards. If it was a real, life-size game, everyone knew that it would be necessary to thwart the police apparatus, in places to pierce it. Everyone thought that victory was a given; how could 30,000 determined people be prevented from reaching their objective, to penetrate the empty but meaningful crater? No one thought that the state would be ready execute any violence and brutality to save face, to defend the hole. In 1 hour and 30 minutes, 4000 munitions were fired: tear gas grenades, dispersing grenades, rubber bullets. 200 people were injured, 40 seriously, 2 in neuro-surgical resuscitation, including one between life and death.

This article will be updated as the day progresses. Below, the press release from the friends of S. whose life is at risk, the testimony of Layla Staats Mohawk present in Sainte-Soline to defend water, a press release from the Confédération Paysanne, the Soulèvements de la Terre and Bassines Non Merci which refutes one by one the lies of the prefecture as to the course of events Saturday. The testimony of an emergency doctor present at the event is also available here.

[For more news from English language sources on the struggle over mega-water reservoir infrastructure, see Unicorn Riot and La Via Campesina]

Press Release about S., Comrade with life threatening injuries following the Sainte-Soline demonstration

On Saturday March 26 in Sainte Soline, our comrade S. was hit in the head by an explosive grenade during the demonstration against the reservoir. Despite her critical state, the prefecture knowingly prevented the emergency services [SAMU] from intervening at first and transporting him to an appropriate care unit at a later stage. She is currently in neurosurgical intensive care. His prognosis is still uncertain.

The surge of violence that the demonstrators suffered left hundreds injured, with several serious attacks on people’s physical integrity, as announced by the various reports available. The 30,000 demonstrators had come with the aim of blocking the site of the Sainte-Soline mega-reservoir, a water grabbing project by a minority for the benefit of a capitalist model which no longer has anything to defend except death. The violence of the armed wing of the democratic state is the most salient expression of this.

In the sequence opened by the movement against the pension reform, the police mutilate and attempt to assassinate to prevent the uprising, to defend the bourgeoisie and its world. Nothing will dampen our determination to end their rule. Tuesday, March 28 and the following days, let us strengthen the strikes and blockades, take to the streets, for S. and all the wounded and imprisoned in our movements.

Long live the revolution.

From S.’s Comrades

PS: If you have any information regarding the circumstances of the injuries inflicted on S., please contact us at:

Testimony of Layla Staats Mohawk present at Sainte-Soline

30,000 People Demonstrate in Sainte-Soline Despite Police Brutality for a Determining Step Towards the End of Mega-Reservoirs

This Saturday, March 25, more than 30,000 people gathered near Sainte-Soline at the call of the Confédération paysanne, Bassines Non Merci and the Soulèvements de la Terre, along with more than 100 associations and trade unions. to drive the nail of a growing popular mobilisation and put an end to the building sites of mega-reservoirs.

The day before, the movement against the mega-reservoirs had already taken up the double challenge of setting up camp in the early morning not far from the Sainte-Soline reservoir, then of moving the convoy of tractors from the Confédération paysanne around the police roadblocks across the field to reach the camp.

On Saturday morning, international delegations, peasants, trade unionists, naturalists, climate and water-sharing activists had all gathered en masse, then divided into 3 processions to launch what will be the greatest anti-reservoirs mobilisation to date. Around giant totems of wildlife threatened by the reservoir projects, the bustard, the otter and the eel, the demonstrators marched forward in the fields in a determined manner with a lot of creativity, audacity and unity, far from the fable sold by Gérald Darmanin of 1000 isolated individuals seeking violence.

The 30,000 people thus arrived together at the foot of the Sainte-Soline site, which they surrounded with the police braced around its perimeter. Thousands of people advanced holding hands, others approached in groups to tear down the railings.

While the yellow procession managed to briefly enter the site, the police violence was staggering in its brutality: no less than 200 people were injured and others continue to arrive. Among them, around forty people have deep (lacerated) wounds and shrapnel wounds, especially on the legs and face, due to the dispersion grenades and blast ball fire. A dozen seriously injured were even transferred to the University Hospital. One protester is in a coma with his vital prognosis uncertain; two others risk the loss of bodily functions. This violence is absolutely criminal when you know that the police only had to protect an empty crater and save face. It largely echoes the brutal repression suffered by the social movement against the pension reform.

Worse, the police delayed taking care of the injured by blocking the emergency services in Sainte-Soline, when it had been called by the demonstrators at 1 p.m. A person in a critical emergency had to wait more than an hour before the prefecture authorized the emergency services to pass after calls from the Confédération paysanne and Marine Tondelier – a blockage confirmed by observers in a press release from the Ligue des Droits de L’Homme.

The organisers denounce the serious violence against people, carried out once again by the police and which reminds us of the drama of Sivens. We are worried about those injured; the priority is and must be to take care of them. It must also be said that just before the demonstration, the police prefecture, the government and even Emmanuel Macron multiplied their use of a language that aimed at criminalizing the anti-reservoirs movement and thereby justifying the violence to which the demonstrators were subjected today.

Before leaving the site, the demonstrators excavated and disarmed a pump and a central pipe from the Sainte-Soline reservoir, putting it permanently out of harm’s way.

At the same time, the Confédération paysanne has planted 300m of hedges, essential for an agricultural model that is low in water and respectful of biodiversity. It also set up a vegetable garden greenhouse to help settle a farmer on a plot near the reservoir. This action shows that beyond the opposition to mega-reservoir, it is another more resilient agricultural model, one that shares water resources and that is carried out on a human scale, that is defended in this struggle.

The demonstrators return this evening and Sunday to Melle. The fight for water sharing continues, with round tables on the ravages of agro-industry, international struggles and peasant agriculture, but also reflections on the future and alliances of the vast popular movement against water appropriation. Shows and performances for all audiences and concerts are planned for the next two days.

We will continue the fight, despite the intimidation and extreme brutality used by the government. This date marks a new decisive step which should announce the cessation of work and the opening of a dialogue on the preservation and sharing of water for the upcoming end of the mega-reservoirs projects. We are coming out strengthened by this massive support and 4 times more numerous than at the last very important mobilisation in Sainte-Soline. No bassaran!

What Really Happened in Sainte-Soline, Despite the lies of the Prefecture of Police and the Minister of the Interior

The day after this historic day of mobilisation against mega-reservoirs, the Confédération paysanne, the Soulèvements de la Terre and Bassines Non Merci would like to recall the facts. While lies are affirmed at the highest level of the State, we have seen and can prove:

A historic mobilization of 30,000 people

First lie of the prefecture: there were 6000 demonstrators and “1000 violent radical individuals” isolated from the march.

All the journalists, elected officials, observers present on the spot can testify to this, the mobilisation was much greater. We already had 10,000 people in the camp early Saturday morning (with logistical considerations of meals and supplies that can attest to this), and thousands of people arrived throughout the morning.

The 3 marches that formed at the start of the event brought together more than 25,000 people. Many other protesters, including people from the seven convoys from major cities (each consisting of several hundred vehicles) were hampered by the police and joined the demonstration after the marches set off.

We therefore easily arrive at the figure of 30,0000 demonstrators mobilised for the defense of water. This is 4 times more than the last mobilisation in Sainte-Soline. Each time the prefecture prohibits the gatherings, but with each time that we find the gestures of disobedience sufficient to impact the reservoirs projects, the demonstrations grow in size.

The tens of thousands of people gathered yesterday came from all over France and Europe. They walked for 6km to the site to surround it and arrest it. And all of this was done in a creative, determined manner and by standing together – far from the cliché sold by Gérald Darmanin of 1000 isolated individuals seeking violence. There are no “radical elements”, but an uprising of people wanting to defend water.

The collective dismantling of a site pump and peasant actions of planting hedges and setting up a greenhouse.

The information was drowned out by government discourse demonising opponents, but part of the march was briefly able to enter the site. Then, on the outside, a central pump of the reservoir, which had just been installed in the previous months, as well as several pipes, were dismantled and put out of harm’s way.

At the same time, more than 300 meters of hedges were planted during the march by the peasants of the Confédération paysanne, as they are a major means of retaining water in the soil. A greenhouse was also set up on a plot of Sainte-Soline to show that water use must be capped and prioritised. Indeed, setting up vegetable gardens in Deux-Sèvres remains very difficult due to lack of access to water, monopolised by the reservoirs promoters.

Brutal repression and many injured protesters

All that follows can be proven by the history of calls, messages and concordant testimonies of dozens of people including elected officials and peasants. The Observers of the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme also published a thread and soon a press release attesting to this and confirming the obstruction by the police.

Denial of democracy, forced passage of the government as much on pensions as on reservoirs; there remains only police brutality and the political violence of article 49-3. As regards the reservoirs, despite repeated proposals for dialogue since September 2021, the government’s only response is the uninhibited use of weapons of war against its opponents, as it proved again yesterday.

Contrary to what was announced by the Minister of the Interior and the prefecture, it is not 7 wounded, but more than 200 that we identify. Among them, we count at least 40 seriously injured, one person is at risk of losing his eye, many devastating wounds on the legs and face (torn jaws) caused by GM2L grenades and blast balls. About ten people were transferred to the CHU, about twenty people at risk of losing specific bodily functions or mutilated. 3 people have suffered life threatening injuries. We are worried about those injured; the priority is and must be to take care of them.

On the specific case of the person in critical condition transferred to the University Hospital of Poitiers and the hindrance of the arrival of help by the police forces

One of the most seriously injured people is said to have received a GM2L grenade in the head. Between the moment he was injured (1:30 p.m.) and the moment the ambulance arrived (3:10 p.m.), 1 hour and 40 minutes passed. The SAMU helicopter took off at 5.10 p.m., 3.40 hours later. The SAMU could not intervene earlier because it was obstructed by the police. He is currently in a coma after an operation last night, his vital prognosis remains engaged. We consider the government to be doubly at fault for its current critical state and for what could be worse yet.

Here are the details of the information that we were able to cross-check on this subject from LDH observers, elected officials and doctors from the mobilisation medical team present on site:

The person was injured around 1:30 p.m. near the reservoir.

There were at least 7 calls from the SAMU and 3 calls to 112, between 1:35 p.m. and 2:50 p.m. requesting an intervention for a critical emergency. On at least two occasions, the SAMU operator replied that he had been ordered by the gendarmerie command not to intervene.

At 2:00 p.m., the demonstrators collectively decide to withdraw to take care of the injured. The clashes cease at this time and the area becomes calm again.

At 2:50 p.m. an emergency doctor present in the demonstration requests a helicopter for this critical situation.

An ambulance from the SMUR finally arrived at 3:10 p.m., and the condition of the injured person does not permit his movement; he did not leave until 4:10 p.m. after being intubated and ventilated.

It took more than an hour and a half between the first call to the SAMU reporting a critical emergency and the arrival of the ambulance.

Then, although aware of the critical urgency of the injured and that there are no other seriously injured among the demonstrators, the SAMU decides to keep the ambulance on site and move the injured to the advanced medical post of la Pommeraie instead of taking him directly to the University Hospital of Poitier (there would have been a 40-45min drive to get to Poitiers).

A lawyer present at the advanced la Pommeraie medical post saw the SAMU helicopter take off at 5:10 p.m. towards Poitiers.

It therefore took at least 3h40 between the first SAMU call and his arrival at the Poitiers University Hospital.

The international struggle for water sharing continues

We reiterate our demand for an immediate halt to work and the opening of a dialogue on the preservation and sharing of water for the upcoming end of the mega-reservoirs projects. Despite the unprecedented brutality of the government, the movement stood in the face of adversity with an unprecedented level of mobilisation. And we say it: if the government stubbornly insists, we will come back and continue to find ways to stop the construction sites through ever more massive gestures of disobedience. No bassaran!

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