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French dam project may be suspended as police prime suspects in protester’s death

Police arrest a demonstator in Albi after Fraisse's death
Police arrest a demonstator in Albi after Fraisse's death Reuters/Regis Duvignau

Work on a dam that is the centre of the protests in south-west France may be suspended as the police became the principal suspects in the death of a young demonstrator at the weekend. Green MEP José Bové told RFI he warned police that someone could get killed.

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Environment Minister Ségolène Royal on Wednesday announced a meeting to be held next week of all parties involved in the construction of the dam at Sivens, in the south-western Tarn region.

Rémi Fraisse, 21, died on Saturday night when a group of protesters clashed with gendarmes, a police force that comes under both the interior and defence ministries and is often used on demonstrations and riots.

After an autopsy found traces of TNT on Fraisse’s clothes, prosecutors, who had already hinted that a Molotov cocktail thrown by protesters could have been responsible, reoriented their investigation towards the police.

“TNT is part of the composition of the charges of tear gas or concussion grenades used by gendarmes,” the inquiry’s head, Claude Derens, said on Tuesday.

"Now we know clearly what the weapon was,” Green MEP José Bové, who was at the protest on Saturday, told RFI. “Now we need to know how the decision was taken to bring the policemen there and who took the decision to say to the policemen to attack with grenades."

Bové puts the blame for Fraisse’s death on the authorities.

"They created a situation where this kind of problem could happen,” he said. “For weeks and weeks I was telling them we were going to have a problem, that someone would be killed if things went on and nobody wanted to listen. Unfortunately, what happened to Rémi Fraisse on Saturday night was something we knew could happen."

The death has shocked the country and President François Hollande on Wednesday repeated assurances that the truth about what happened will be revealed, while insisting that “such violence” is not acceptable in a democracy.

A report commissioned by the environment ministry has criticised the cost of the constructing the dam and Royal said that next week’s meeting will seek “a solution that justifies the commitment of public and European funds on projects such as this”.

But, she added, “if some people that they can stop work on the country’s infrastructure by violence, they are mistaken”.

The president of the Tarn regional council, Thierry Carcenac, on Wednesday said that he was ready to consider suspending work on the dam.

The project should be reexamined with a view to improving it, rather than scrapping it completely, he said.

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