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Environment

Mounting disappointments boost anti-nuclear protests

The massive demos along the route of the radioactive waste transport to Gorleben have benefitted from other hot spots like Stuttgart 21, a controversial infrastructure project.

Police officers chase demonstrators in a forest near Hitzacker, northern Germany

Violence broke out between police and some demonstrators

The ongoing civil disobedience campaign against a train delivery of nuclear waste to a storage facility in Gorleben is being reported as one of the biggest of its kind ever in Germany.

Up to 17,000 policemen, at a cost of up to 50 million euros ($70 million), were used over the weekend to keep an estimated 35,000 people from blocking the path of the train, and more demonstrators – along with local farmers - are continuing to arrive to block the path of the road convoy as it continues its journey.

There were varying reports of whether violence had occurred. The police said that officers had been directly attacked, while protest organizers countered that demonstrators had only sabotaged the tracks.

Rainer Wendt, head of the police union, said, the officers "proceeded very sensitively," and "made the right decision – namely to carry the people from the tracks."

He added that where violence was used against police officers, they reacted "accordingly" and "proportionately."

Dirk Seifert, spokesman for the environmental protest group Robin Wood, told a different story.

"You have to say that the police were disproportionate in their use of tear-gas and pepper spray," he told Deutsche Welle.

"The police also hit people who were already lying on the ground, both with their fists as well as truncheons."

There was also the issue of what happened to those peaceful protesters once they were removed from the tracks.

Seifert complained of demonstrators being kept for hours on end in an open field in the cold of the night. "That is usually called false imprisonment, he said, "The law says people have to be brought to a custodial judge as soon as possible. That did not happen."

A local lies on the road the nuclear waste is meant to take

The protests continued throughout the weekend and into Monday

Issues converging

What has made this particular demonstration so explosive is the coincidence of this transport of nuclear waste with the government's decision to overturn former legislation aimed at phasing out nuclear power by around 2020.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative coalition of Christian Democrats and the pro-business Free Democrats, recently passed a bill through parliament allowing nuclear power stations to remain open another 12 years.

Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen has been at pains to separate the issues of lifespan-extension and dealing with nuclear waste.

"We have been using nuclear power for over 40 years," he said. "We have created electricity from it and created waste, and we have a responsibility to deal with that – independent of the question of lifespan extension."

Yet Seifert is unimpressed with this distinction.

"The fact is that this government has decided to produce even more nuclear waste by extending the life spans of the existing nuclear power stations."

But some demonstrators arrived at the railway tracks with self-evidently different agendas.

Stuttgart 21

Stuttgart 21 protests

Stuttgarters angry about a new railway station have joined the anti-nuclear protests

Several protestors against the new railway station known as Stuttgart 21 were also present, and were celebrated at the podium. This suggests that the anti-nuclear movement has become a rallying point for many people who feel the current government's policies are leaving them disenfranchised.

"There is a growing feeling that policies are being made for minorities or a certain clientele, like large corporations, and that this government does not see it as necessary to work for the good of the whole population," said Seifert.

"A lot of people in Stuttgart have the feeling that their opinion is not respected – the government is just doing what it wants over the heads of the population."

Opinion polls show that opposition political parties, particularly the Greens, are benefitting from this groundswell. Indeed, prominent Green party figure Claudia Roth took part in the weekend's demonstrations, though politicians were not permitted to speak at the podium.

"We are certainly interested in working together with members of those parties, but the parties have the parliament, and we have the streets," said Seifert. "We are a social movement and we have to separate the two places of expression."

Author: Ben Knight
Editor: Nathan Witkop

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