Opponents and advocates of a controversial multi-billion-euro railway redevelopment in Stuttgart have ended the first day of conciliatory talks with a pledge to keep the peace and meet weekly until the end of November.
Geissler said the meeting has eased tensions
The first day of long-awaited direct talks between opponents and supporters of the Stuttgart 21 railway redevelopment project has ended with a pledge by both parties to meet every Friday until the end of November to discuss differences over the controversial scheme.
The first topic broached at the talks dealt with the service capabilities and intended use of the new railway hub, as well as with the laying of new rail tracks for the project.
Veteran politician and chief mediator Heiner Geissler said after sixh hours of talks both sides "came to the conclusion that we want to resolve this dispute."
"We believe we have made an important contribution to easing tensions over the last weeks and months," he added.
Geissler said a desire to keep the peace would underpin the conciliatory meetings and that construction work would not continue while the talks were ongoing.
The talks on Friday were the first to the be held on the project
The premier of Baden-Wuerttemberg state, Stefan Mappus, had earlier said no further demolition work or tree-clearing would take place until the next state election, scheduled for March 2011.
Groundwater works to continue
Geissler said Friday, however, that groundwater management works in the Stuttgart Schlossgarten park would continue under a compromise deal: earthworks are to go ahead, but construction work, such as paving, would be put on hold.
Matthias von Herrmann, a spokesperson for the opposition to the project, said after the talks that "substantial construction work in the Sclossgarten would be humiliating for the victims of the brutal and disproportionate police action" against protestors.
On September 30, police used water cannons, tear gas and pepper spray against protestors they said had turned violent. Tens of thousands of people have turned out in recent weeks for demonstrations against the project.
The rail project will cost around seven billion euros
Also to come from the meeting was a promise by Geissler that future talks would not be held behind closed doors, but could rather be broadcast live on the Internet.
The controversial Stuttgart 21 project is meant to make the city and the surrounding region part of a 1,500-kilometer (932-mile) high-speed rail route across Europe.
Opponents have said the money required for the project, an estimated 7 billion euros ($9.5 billion), would be better spent on updating the existing rail network.
Despite the ongoing negotiations, Hannes Rockenbauch, another opposition spokesperson, said demonstrations against the project would go ahead as planned on the weekend.
Parties to the negotiations are to reconvene next Friday to continue their talks.
Author: Darren Mara (AFP/dpa)
Editor: John Kluempers