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Germany

State premier names arbitrator in Stuttgart's controversial rail project

The premier of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg has named an arbitrator in Stuttgart's train station controversy. He called on supporters and opponents to continue a dialogue, hoping to avoid more violent protests.

Mappus

Premier Mappus is trying to find a solution

In an effort to bridge the communication gap between supporters and opponents of Stuttgart's train station renovation project, the premier of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Stefan Mappus, has announced that he is bringing in a mediator to help facilitate dialogue between the two sides.

Heiner Geissler

Geissler is known as a neutral mediator

In a speech to the state assembly in Stuttgart, Mappus announced the appointment of Heiner Geissler as a mediator between the state and opponents of the controversial project, which is known as Stuttgart 21. Geissler is a former secretary general of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

"I am confident that there is a way to reconcile," Mappus said, "and this way leads through an unbiased moderator who will involve all sides without preconditions."

Although the 80-year-old Geissler is a member of Mappus' CDU, in previous roles as an arbitrator he has been known for reaching across party lines.

Renewed invitation

In addition to naming Geissler as arbitrator, Mappus issued a call for further discussion about the project.

"Today, I renew today my invitation to discussions for all critics of the project," Mappus said. "My appeal is this: let's achieve a forum together where dialogue is possible and that the factual arguments become the guiding force of our discussion."

Demonstrations last week against the Stuttgart 21 project turned violent as police used water cannon, tear gas and pepper spray to disperse protesters. Two demonstrators who were hit in the face with the water cannons are still recovering and may have suffered permanent eye damage.

On Wednesday, Mappus repeated a previous statement that scenes of violence must not be repeated.

Opponents gain ground

Mappus' speech comes a day after the state government agreed to delay further demolition work on the project until after state elections in March 2011.

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.

Police spray water cannons at protesters

Police say their reaction was measured

However, Mappus has said repeatedly that stopping the construction project - which has been already underway for six months - was not an option, as contracts have already been signed and legislation passed.

Meanwhile public opposition to the project has become more organized and vocal - largely in response to the use of force by police at last week's demonstration.

State police chief Wolf Hammann said the officers' response was in line with the actions taken by some protesters, which included spraying pepper spray and throwing chestnuts, plastic bottles and fireworks at the police.

In Berlin, the federal government was set to discuss the protests and the police reaction on Wednesday.

Call for more transparency

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

It also involves digging tunnels to create a new rail connection between Stuttgart and the western city of Ulm.

A visualization of the Stuttgart 21 project

The tunnel project has been in the mix for years

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 sharply criticized.

Authors: Matt Zuvela (AFP/dpa)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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