French riot police clashed with protesters for a fifth day on Friday as their operation to clear squatters from an abandoned airport site evolved into a violent standoff that looked like it could go on for some time.

After a dawn swoop on Monday to demolish makeshift shelters housing eco-activists and anarchists, police have been engaged in running skirmishes with those refusing to leave and said hundreds of “ultra-leftists” had arrived intent on violence.

The local prefect said a police helicopter had been targeted by someone firing birdshot and police described one attack on their ranks as an “ambush”.

Dozens of people have been injured and several arrested, with the Rennes prosecutor saying five people were in custody.

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