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Police swoop on Languedoc winemakers

French police arrested seven winemakers in the Languedoc this week and are holding them on unspecified charges, leading to a standoff between growers and riot officers in Montpellier.

The seven winemakers, two from the Gard department, including the spokesman for the Gard Winemakers’ Union, and five from Hérault, were arrested by local gendarmes on Monday 15 January.

According to French media outlet France 3, the exact charges the winemakers are being detained on is not known but as many as 30 charges including actions relating to the, at times violent, protests against foreign (especially Spanish) wine by large négociants are currently under investigation by the local police.

In spring 2016 a group of winemakers halted tankers coming over from Spain and emptied some 70,000 litres of wine onto the road.

The Languedoc is also well known for the occasional actions of one of the world’s more niche ‘terrorist’ organisations, CRAV (Comité Régionale d’Action Viticole), which over the years has attacked through vandalism and arson various négocient and even political offices and institutions in its campaign to (in its eyes) protect the interests of Languedoc growers.

No mention has been made of any direct links between the arrests and the growers’ potential association with CRAV but it has not been discounted in the French media.

The arrest of the seven men caused several hundred other winemakers to descend on the police headquarters in Montpellier and call for their immediate release.

Organisers said 300 growers protested the arrests although local authorities put the number slightly lower at 150-200.

Either way, yesterday (16 January) amid rising tensions it seems some of the protesters set fire to some dustbins on the tramline outside the police HQ, causing a disruption to the network which lasted two hours.

Riot police were called out and tear gas was reportedly fired in the skirmish. Four growers were reportedly hospitalised, two with second degree burns, the cause of which was not explained though may have been caused by trying to handle the gas canisters. Two more were apparently beaten by the police.

One winemaker was due to be released on bail yesterday and the other six were to appear in court this morning.

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