Eight people were arrested and three injured after protesters clashed with police in western France, as authorities tried to evict protesters camping on a future airport site located on protected swampland in Notre-Dame-des-Landes.
Officers fired tear gas, and protesters retaliated with gas bombs and stones. The activists claim that the future airport will destroy woodland in the area and cause pollution.
On Friday, French police fired tear gas in hopes of dispersing the demonstrators, while protesters responded by hurling bottles, stones and firecrackers, slightly injuring a police officer and two television journalists. Police deployed two backhoes and a large waste receptacle while attempting to clear the site.
Rallies were also held in Paris and Nantes in support of the airport protesters, and several dozen demonstrators were arrested in the French capital.
The airport is planned to be built near the city of Nantes in western France by 2017 to replace the area's existing airport. The project has the backing of Socialist Party Prime Minister Ayrault, who was the mayor of Nantes from 1989 until this year.
France's Green Party and several other politicians opposed the construction of the airport over environmental concerns.
Environmentalist protesters have set up numerous camps around the area for months now, battling police eviction attempts.
"We will continue,” an activist named Sophie told AFP. "We will remain on track. The moment we are driven out, we will reoccupy."
The French Interior Ministry adopted tough measures to deal with the protesters, and confirmed that it would deploy police to force out the activists.
"It is out of the question to let a cyst grow," Interior Minister Manuel Valls said. He vowed to do "all we can to ensure the law is respected and construction can start. … It's a useful project … for millions of inhabitants of our country.”
The airport controversy has sparked a schism in the Socialist-led government, which has environmentalists in its ranks.
The project was approved in 2008, and will cost an estimated 580 million euro ($747 million). Construction on the airport is expected to begin in 2014.