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Clashes between police and anti-nuclear protestors turn violent

Clashes between police and activists continued throughout Sunday as efforts to block a train transporting nuclear waste to a storage site in northern Germany persisted.

A police vehicle in the forest near Dannenberg, near to the radioactive waste storage site

Police said that some activists threw flares and fired tear gas

German police reported violent clashes with anti-nuclear protestors seeking to stop a train carrying reprocessed nuclear waste on Sunday.

Authorities said up to 4,000 activists had tried to forcibly reach railway tracks being used by a reduced-speed train to carry nuclear waste from France.

Police said they were attacked along the route to Dannenberg, the second-to-last destination for the radioactive cargo, which will be stored at an underground facility at nearby Gorleben. As the violence escalated, demonstrators were also reported to have set an armed police vehicle on fire.

Water cannon, pepper spray and truncheons were used to remove protestors who were intent upon occupying the tracks, police said. With protests continuing into Sunday night, authorities brought the train to a halt until Monday morning.

"I can confirm there were arrests and people injured, but I am not able to say how many," a police spokesperson said. He added that the activists appeared to be "members of the anarchist scene, who threw flares and fired tear gas at police."

Activists, meanwhile, said at least 12 people were injured in the clashes.

Continuing clashes

The violence follows similar incidents earlier Sunday when police officers used truncheons and mace to fight activists brandishing chemical sprays.

An activist is forcibly taken off the tracks by police

Up to 4,000 people tried to reach the railway track through the surrounding forest, authorities said

The activists had been attempting to remove gravel from the bed of the train tracks to stop the train, according to a police spokeswoman.

The train was slowed to a crawl earlier in the day as dozens of anti-nuclear activists obstructed its path.

Police said they arrested 16 activists overnight after catching them with utensils to chain themselves to the train tracks. Two other activists tied themselves off a 75-meter-high bridge near the town of Morschen, hanging in the train's path and delaying the train by about two hours. About 50 other people blocked the tracks nearby, police said.

The train was carrying 123 tons of radioactive waste from a reprocessing plant in France to a temporary storage facility in Gorleben, where at least 25,000 protestors demonstrated on Saturday.

More than a thousand activists on Sunday also occupied the street where the waste was due to be trucked through to storage. Among the sit-in was Green Party chief Claudia Roth.

Massive crowd waits at storage facility

Demonstrators over the weekend have been of all ages, many carrying the red and yellow "Nuclear power, no thanks" banners used for decades by the anti-nuclear movement in Germany.

"It's no fun having to organize rallies like that in these conditions but the government's policy leaves us with no choice," said Jochen Stay, spokesman for the anti-nuclear group Ausgestrahlt (Irradiated). He added that the group's "most optimistic estimates have been surpassed."

Some 16,000 police were reportedly mobilized in the region ahead of the rally in preparation for potential acts of left-wing violence.

Tractors taking part in an anti-nuclear demonstration

Hundreds of people drove tractors to demonstrations

"We are assuming that some hundreds of violent autonomous protestors intend to misuse the protests for their own purposes," Hans-Werner Wargel, president of Lower Saxony's security service said on Saturday.

Government extends reactor lifespan

Germany’s anti-nuclear campaigners have been outraged by a recent decision by German lawmakers to approve a bill extending the life of the country's 17 reactors by an average of 12 years. The plants were set by an earlier administration to be phased-out by the early 2020s.

Opinion polls show that most Germans were against the parliament's decision to extend the reactors' lifetimes.

Germany gets 23 percent of its energy from nuclear power.

The temporary storage site in Gorleben also remains controversial, with environmentalists saying it risks becoming a permanent storage location despite being setup as a temporary holding area for the waste.

Some 1,500 people and 250 groups are reported to have signed a call to undermine the stability of railway tracks on which the waste train will travel by removing stones and soil from under the railway.

Authorities have also said pamphlets containing information on building firebombs have been circulating for months.

Infrared photo of the train and containers

The nuclear waste is expected to reach Gorleben on Monday

Green Party parliamentary leader Juergen Trittin, who is to join the protest, called on Saturday for demonstrators to remain peaceful.

"Anything else would be highly damaging for our cause," Trittin told the daily Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung.

The waste, originally produced in Germany, was stabilized in the French city of La Hague by being melted and mixed into glass cylinders, which are stored in so-called Castor containers.

Activists had attempted to block the train on Friday as it left the French reprocessing plant, but the nuclear power firm Areva changed the train's route and by dawn it was within 200 kilometers (130 miles) of the German border.

Authors: Andrew Bowen, David Levitz, Darren Mara (AFP, AP, dpa)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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