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Germany

State government halts demolition in controversial Stuttgart rail project

In an apparent concession to the increasingly outspoken opposition to Stuttgart's train station renovation plan, the state premier of Baden-Wuerttemberg has agreed to stop demolition related to the project.

People gather signatures against the project

Democracy looks like this, the project's opponents say

Opponents of the Stuttgart rail station renovation project gained a major victory on Tuesday as the state government agreed to delay demolition work until after new elections next year.

Baden-Wuerttemberg Premier Stefan Mappus said no further demolition work or tree-clearing operations in the Schlossgarten park would take place until the next state election, scheduled for March 2011. He stipulated that he would not put an end to all construction work.

The announcement appeared to be a major turn in the government’s response to opponents of the project, which has been planned for more than a decade.

Meanwhile public opposition to the renovation project has become more organized and vocal - largely in response to police’s use of tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons against protestors at a demonstration last week.

Police in Stuttgart fire water cannon at a group of Stuttgart 21 protesters

Police say their response to protesters was measured

Opponents of the renovation organized another rally on Monday, at which thousands of people signed petitions calling for an early political resolution to the standoff. Police estimated the turnout at 25,000, while organizers put the figure at more than 50,000.

Violent clashes

In response to criticism of the police’s use of force at state police chief Wolf Hammann said the officers' actions were proportional to the violent behavior of the protesters.

"I fully trust the officers and police who were at the scene," he told a press conference on Tuesday.

At the press conference, police played videos of the demonstrations, pointing out protesters spraying pepper spray and throwing chestnuts, plastic bottles and fireworks at the police.

The officer in charge at the demonstrations, Siegfried Stumpf, justified the use of water cannons by saying a large number of demonstrators had blocked police access to the construction site and hindered them from putting up protective fencing.

"Until then we had never expected a blockade," Stumpf said. "Before that there had never been so much resistance towards us."

He added that the water cannons were preceded by warnings, and that while he regretted the outcome, "the demonstrators should take responsibility for their aggressive behavior.”

Call for more transparency

The controversial project, called "Stuttgart 21," is meant to make Stuttgart and the surrounding region part of a 1,500-kilometer (932-mile) high-speed rail route across Europe.

A model of the renovated station superimposed over the current building

The renovated station is meant to stretch into the current park

Opponents say the money required for the project, an estimated seven billion euros ($9.5 billion), would be better spent on updating the existing rail network.

The managers of the project, which include German rail company Deutsche Bahn, have been fiercely criticized.

Hans Heinrich Driftmann, president of the German Association of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK), said Germany needed to learn from the problems of this project.

"Even though it has been democratically legitimized, big projects like this should be implemented in a very different way and with more transparency," he told the Rheinische Post newspaper. "The development of Stuttgart 21 really worries me, because Germany will be relied upon to carry out large infrastructure projects in the future."

Authors: Darren Mara, Natalia Dannenberg, Andrew Bowen (AFP/dpa)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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