According to RT’s Jonathan Moadab, the demonstrators, many of whom wore hoods and masks, threw smoke bombs and even a Molotov cocktail at officers, who had summoned a water cannon to the central square. At least one officer has been taken to hospital after receiving a burn to his leg, according to the regional newspaper Ouest-France, which said that two people have been arrested, and three more taken to a police station for identification.
French media reported earlier that radical activists, including anarchist groups, were traveling to Nantes from across the country. Public transport into the city through the main streets had been suspended on Saturday afternoon, while owners put protective paneling over shop windows.
The demonstration, comprising what authorities estimated as more than 2,200 people, began under the supervision of a police contingent of between 500 and 600, with several units bussed in as reinforcements from neighboring regions.
During the initial, peaceful part of the rally, activists carried signs bearing slogans saying “No to Le Pen” and “No fascists in our neighborhood,” though there were also cries of “Justice for Theo,” a popular slogan during the recent spate of riots in Paris that followed the alleged brutal treatment of a black suspect named Theo. Many of the activists also carried Communist symbols and trade union flags.
“We are here to tell Marine Le Pen that it is not welcome at all in the West and Nantes in particular. We are a land of solidarity and social progress, and we do not want the lies of Marine Le Pen,” said Anthony Lemaire of the CGT union.
It appears that the clashes began after several participants launched several flares, covering the procession in thick smoke. Many in the crowd began chanting “Everybody hates the police!” At that point, a smaller group of mostly young male activists, covered head-to-toe in black track suits, with some armed with sticks, separated from the bulk of the protesters and began engaging the riot police.
Several hurled flares directly into the closed shields of the cordon, while others pelted officers with stones. There were also several running battles, with protesters coming closer and directly clashing with uniformed officers, before retreating to a safe distance.
Photographs spread on social media of several cafes and shops with broken windows, and spray-painted tags on walls and monuments.
The National Front said the attempts to foil Marine Le Pen’s rally ahead of April presidential election, for which more than 2,000 people were expected, was an attack on free speech, and called for a firm police response.
“As usual the far-left fascist rabble rampages and burns. We will soon arrive to restore order to France!” said FN Vice President Florian Philipot after news arrived of the public disorder in Nantes.