Protests over high-speed France rail link escalate

By Peter Popham

Activists continue to defy the Italian PM's commitment to the high-speed train line under the Alps. Photo / AP
Activists continue to defy the Italian PM's commitment to the high-speed train line under the Alps. Photo / AP

The fight goes on. For more than 20 years, the people of Val di Susa, a spectacular Alpine valley on the Italian border with France, have been campaigning to prevent the construction of a high-speed train track under their mountains to France which they claim would cause vast environmental damage.

The French end of the 57km-long tunnel, the longest through the Alps, is well under way. But on the Italian side, despite the agreement of all the main Italian political parties and the European Union, not one lorry-load of cement has yet been poured, not one metre of Alpine soil drilled out.

And hours after Italy's Prime Minister, Mario Monti, reaffirmed his country's commitment to the project at the weekend, protesters met in this valley town to reaffirm their commitment to thwart him.

Alberto Peroni, a veteran leader of the "No TAV" movement (TAV is the Italian acronym for high-speed train) who suffered a broken elbow in clashes last week, chose a tone of mockery for his defiance.

"Dear Monti," he told the 1000plus campaigners crammed into the hall and more listening outside, "you are in Rome and you want to build the TAV. We are in the Susa Valley and we don't want it. We are people who don't give in."

If there was a touch of arrogance here, the movement has earned the right to it. Despite the dissent of some valley communities (bought off with money, the protesters claim), the majority has been behind the resistance for years: a week ago, 70,000 people turned out for a protest march, and now they are planning a general strike.

After years simmering away on the back burner, No TAV is suddenly front-page news nationwide. Last week one protester, chased by police, was electrically shocked after climbing a pylon in a planned construction site and taken to hospital in a coma.

This, as well as fierce clashes between police and protesters blocking major roads, triggered a wave of No TAV sympathy around the country, with small but disruptive demonstrations in more than 40 towns and cities. Against this, Monti argues: "Do we want to let our peninsula sweetly drift, cut off from Europe, making it very difficult for the Italian economy to be competitive and create new jobs?"

The objections of the protesters are above all environmental: the mountains contain significant quantities of uranium and asbestos, and people fear the health consequences of a huge building site in the middle of the valley for at least 10 years that would unleash these poisons on them.

They fear the drying up of the streams and springs that water the valley, as has happened, they claim, to towns with motorways built nearby, and the destruction of the valley's natural beauty. With the closing of local factories, Susa is more and more dependent on tourists drawn by the awesome splendour of the mountains. The valley's beauty, they fear, would vanish for ever.

- Independent

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n1 at 12 Jul 2014 19:52:49 Processing Time: 866ms