Huge anti-nuclear demos turn up heat on Merkel
A quarter of a million people took to the streets in Germany Saturday to protest against nuclear power, organisers said, upping the pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel on the eve of a critical state election.
Marches took place in Hamburg, Cologne, Munich and the capital Berlin ahead of the vote in wealthy Baden-Wuerttemberg state on Sunday at which nuclear energy is set to be a key issue.
The main organisers, Ausgestrahlt, said 250,000 people took part in the demonstrations countrywide, marching under the banner "Fukushima Means: No More Nuclear Power Stations."
Police said more than 100,000 took part in Berlin alone. Organisers claimed 20,000 more.
In a rainy Munich, police spoke of 30,000 participants, while organisers said there were 40,000. The marches in Hamburg and Cologne attracted 50,000 and 40,000 respectively, organisers said.
Hailing the protests as "Germany's biggest ever demonstration against nuclear power," Ausgestrahlt said, "the government's answer must be to turn the reactors off."
"Today's demonstrations are just the prelude to a new, strong anti-nuclear movement. We're not going to let up until the plants are finally mothballed," said Jochen Stay, an Ausgestrahlt spokesman.
Merkel decided on March 14, in light of the nuclear crisis in Japan, to observe a three-month moratorium on extending the lifetimes of Germany's 17 reactors and to shut off the oldest seven temporarily, pending safety checks.
Voters believed she was merely electioneering, despite her protests to the contrary, and reported comments from the economy minister seemingly confirming this have added to Merkel's woes ahead of Sunday's must-win election.
Her conservative CDU party has braced for a tight result in the southwestern state they have held for 58 years.
Polls show the ecologist Greens, spurred by anti-nuclear sentiment in the country, could make history and garner enough votes with the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) to govern with Germany's first-ever Green state premier.
"We Must Learn From Japan: Nothing Is Impossible," read one placard in Berlin as a float made by the Greens portrayed a nuclear reactor being consigned to the "Dustbin of History".
A massive March 11 earthquake prompted a devastating tsunami in Japan that knocked out the cooling systems for the six reactors of the Fukushima plant.
This led to suspected partial meltdowns in three of them and hydrogen explosions and fires that ripped through the facility.
Merkel has said that "everything has changed" in light of Japan's worst post-war disaster and that Germany should aim to exit nuclear power "the sooner the better."
But she has said nuclear power has to serve as a "bridge technology" while Europe's top economy accelerates a transition to alternative sources of energy such as wind power.
Monika Flemming, a 53-year-old saleswoman at the protest, said: "I came here to call for nuclear reactors to be stopped because I firmly intend to die of old age rather than radiation poisoning."
"It's my first demonstration, but I've always been against nuclear. I don't think it's ever been so urgent as now. I also get the feeling that this is the moment to get things done, because public opinion is changing," she said.
Another protestor, 26-year-old political science student Curd Knuepfer, said: "I think Fukushima was a wake-up call for the German people."
"Germans have always been against nuclear power," he added.
© 2011 AFP