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Activists demand climate change action at Cop21 on tense Paris streets

Climate change activists on Sunday's demonstration in Paris
Climate change activists on Sunday's demonstration in Paris Sarah Elzas

Thousands of environmental activists from all over the world joined hands in a line across Paris Sunday in defiance of a ban on a climate demonstration following the 13 November terrorist attacks. Activists stood on the sidewalk along a three-kilometre stretch of eastern Paris, holding signs and banners.


"We were told by the Parisian government that we couldn't march in the street, but we were given word that standing on the sidewalks would be tolerated," explains Kandi Mossett of the Indigenous Environmental Network. 

She came to Paris from North Dakota in the United States, where she says fracking for oil and natural gas is causing problems. 

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"The governments tout fracking as some clean form of energy because of natural gas," she says. "But in North Dakota all of our people are getting very sick and very big social problems. And it's for oil." 

Farther down the human chain, Shakira Martin and three other British students held a homemade sign with a picture of a dinosaur and the words "Fossils are our friends, not fuel". 

"I'm here to stand in solidarity with all the other international organisations and students to say that we need renewable energies and no to all forms of fracking and fossil fuels," says Martin, a vice-president of the British National Union of Students. 

French environmentalists were out in force, from mainstream groups, like Greenpeace and Oxfam, to activists protesting against an airport in Nantes in western France, as well as vegetarian and vegan groups. 

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The human chain dispersed after an hour. Some of the participants made their way to Plade de la République, which has been turned into an informal memorial site for the victims of the attacks. 

Although police had not authorised a gathering there, Nicolas came anyway with a sign saying "Repression hurts the climate - no to the state of emergency".

He decided to come specifically because the protest was banned. 

"I think this restriction on protesting is not only dangerous and a fake pretext," he explained. "It's morally scandalous to use terrorism and the victims to impose this state of emergency and to repress activists for ecology and all kinds of activists." 

Several environmental activists were detained and put under house arrest for the duration of the Climate Conference. 

Jean-Pierre Dubois, an honorary president of the French Human Rights League, says the government has overstepped the bounds of the state of emergency. 

"We accepted [this emergency law] in the beginning," he said, but now he says it's targeting the wrong people. 

"Some of them are extreme left-wing activists with radical political ideas, which I don't share personally, but that's not the point: they have a right to do that," he says "The French government is using the emergency law for something else." 

José Bové, a cofounder of the European Green movement and an MEP, has similarly harsh words for the government's decision to detain environmental activists and ban demonstrations. 

"The government is saying that our movements are like terrorists," he says indignantly. "Saying that our movements have to be stopped is a way of saying that civil society has nothing to do with the debate on climate change. And of course that's not true, because the solutions are coming from the people and not from the governments."

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