Blood on the Barricades: Death of Protester at Sivens

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After months of occupation, the rising protest against the Sivens Dam took a tragic turn over the weekend – an event that may decide its fate

21-year-old Rémi Fraisse died as a result of injuries from an explosion on Saturday night last. He was one of approximately 6,000 mostly young people who have been occupying the site of a proposed dam across the Tescou River (a tributary of the Tarn) in the department of Tarn in SW France – about 60km north-east of Toulouse.

The project has been in the public realm since the late 1980s as a means of assuring water supply to farmers in the area through any possible summer drought periods. Those opposed to the dam say that the need is far less than originally anticipated (benefitting only 20 farmers today, as opposed to an estimated 80 in 2001) and that it will cause the destruction of a wetlands area, home to approximately 94 protected species. Positions became entrenched towads the end of August when deforestation works commenced and entire thing came to a head on the 25th of this month when advanced works began on the site and were hampered by large groups of violent protesters. In the wetlands area known as Le Testet, a group of 5,000 protesters gathered to express their opposition to the works.

Naked aggression:  a protester braving the elements atop a caravan

Naked aggression: a protester braving the elements atop a caravan

The general movement against the construction of the dam is getting strong support from a number of sources, including the leftist presidential candidate Deputy Jean-Luc Mélenchon and colourful seasoned campaigner and Asterix lookalike José Bové.

The Indian summer has come to an end for those in the encampments, however, and the tragic turn of events over the last few days has meant that works have stopped on the site. Thierry Carcenac, president of the Tarn departmental council ordered machinery to be turned off on Tuesday night. Whether or not they will ever resume is another story. Carcenac insists that democracy will prevail and that the works will resume after a calming period, but public anger over the project seems sure to swing in favour of the protesters now as the story has emerged that it was a policeman’s grenade that caused the death of Mr Fraisse, whose father is an elected representative for a Toulouse suburb. He was the first protester to die in France since 1986.

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