Train station protests
Thousands of protestors in Stuttgart's Schlossgarten park were met with tear gas and water cannons from police attempting to clear the park ahead of planned tree cutting work set to take place Thursday night. The crowd was protesting against plans to cut down the trees in the park as part of the city's multi-billion euro train station renovation project, 'Stuttgart 21.'
The project involves demolishing Stuttgart's old train station and replacing it with a new, underground facility, with the addition of a new line creating a connection to the nearby city of Ulm.
The tree-cutting is due to begin at midnight on Thursday, and police entered the park in an attempt to remove protesters from the area, some of whom had chained themselves to the trees. The police were hoping to erect barriers around the site where 25 trees are to be felled in the next two days.
Many of the demonstrators belong to an organization called 'Parkschuetzer,' or park protectors. Among the protesters was also a group of school children. Eyewitnesses say the police turned the water cannons and tear gas on the children as well.
A bigger issue
Estimates vary regarding the number of injured, but at least 300 people have irritated eyes from the tear gas, while about 50 have suffered bruises, bloody noses, or scrapes. The police put the estimate the size of the crowd at 1,000 to 2,000 people, while other estimates are at least twice that amount. About 1,000 municipal and state police officers were on the scene, including some officers from states bordering Baden-Wuerttemberg, where Stuttgart is located. Some reports indicate that stones were thrown at police from the crowd of protesters.
The protest and the reaction from police have refocused attention on what has become a divisive topic. Opponents of Stuttgart 21 say the cost - 7 billion euros ($9.5 billion), according to Germany's rail operator Deutsche Bahn - could spiral out of control. Some say the money could be spent better in other places, including other areas of the German rail network.
The protest movement of the "park protectors" and other opponents of the project has slowly become about more than just the train station, as some see it as a fight against hard-nosed politicians and out-of-control capitalism.
Politicians weigh in
While this is not the first protest action against Stuttgart 21, Thursday's demo has provided a powerful spark to reignite the debate in the political arena.
Renate Kuenast, head of the parliamentary faction of the Green party in Berlin, said the reaction of the police was "no way to solve the problem. This will only escalate things, problems will become worse. That's how rifts between the government and the governed become deeper."
The deputy chair of the Left party's parliamentary faction, Ulrich Maurer, directed his criticism at Heribert Rech, the interior minister of Baden-Wuerttemberg.
"Anyone who attempts to break up registered student demonstrations with clubs, tear gas, and water cannons has broken with democracy and must, as interior minister, take his hat in his hand and leave," said Maurer.
A growing problem
The protesters in the Schlossgarten also came in for some criticism.
"I find it irresponsible of fathers and mothers not only to have their children there, but to put them in the front row," said Peter Hauk, caucus chairman of the ruling Christian Democratic Union in the state parliament of Baden-Wuerttemberg.
German chancellor Angela Merkel has recently lent her support to the Stuttgart 21 project, but as protest actions against Stuttgart's plans for its train station continue to grow in severity, the political implications for Merkel and her shaky ruling coalition could grow as well.
Author: Matt Zuvela (dapd, dpa, AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Susan Houlton