The police continued their clearing operation on Tuesday. And on Wednesday, another showdown loomed as security forces began their third day of intervention, while activists called for a peaceful gathering on the site.
“If you want to do something that goes beyond you today, find the courage to come here to defend a zone that is a laboratory for the future and the common good, against the forces of the ancient world,” the protesters’ main account said on Twitter on Tuesday.
The move to clear the site is the latest episode in an airport project that stretches back more than 50 years. An oil crisis in the 1970s and the expansion of the country’s high-speed rail network stalled the plan for decades before it was reactivated in 2000.
The protesters call the area Z.A.D., the French initials for Zone to Defend — a play on the official name, Zone for Future Development
Initially, the airport protest centered on complaints about noise and claims that the land was an important habitat for wildlife. Some also argued that the project was a waste of money — given that the nearby city of Nantes already had a functioning, if small, airport.
As the project gained a second life, a group including environmental activists, local farmers and anticapitalists swung into action. They created an alternative society on the site, opening a library, a bakery, a weekly market and dozens of other buildings and services.
Volunteer doctors treated activists who fell ill, and collective kitchens were created. Some activists grew medicinal plants, while others bred cattle or raised sheep.
The activists set up common rules that they called limits, gathered in local assemblies, and every two weeks summoned 12 people to resolve conflicts.
As the authorities began clearing the site this week, the clashes made headlines across France, where Mr. Macron’s attempts to overhaul the economy have already been met by a wave of strikes and protest movements.
Thousands of supporters of the squatters gathered in Nantes, Paris and other parts of France to protest the violence at the site. Left-wing politicians and environmental activists criticized the police deployment and the use of armored vehicles to destroy the installations. Lawmakers from Mr. Macron’s own parliamentary majority called for a pause in the eviction operation.
“Let’s stop!” François-Michel Lambert, a lawmaker and member of Mr. Macron’s party La République en Marche (the Republic on the Move) said on France Info.
“Only politics, only peace is the good solution, not the clash that ends in the destruction of one, which will never be the victory of the other,” he said, referring to the face-off between the riot police and the squatters.