'We're staying here': nuclear activists defiant to the end
Just after 3:00 am, a loudspeaker pierced the freezing night air and a swarm of riot police began to drag away activists blocking a cargo of nuclear waste crawling through Germany.
Even after their marathon protest, the longest ever, activists were defiant to the end, chanting "we're staying here" as they were pulled kicking and screaming from the road in the arms of police officers clad in black and green.
"You have not obeyed the injunction from the police requiring you to clear the road. We will therefore begin the evacuation of the protesters," the police loudspeaker said.
Around 4,000 protesters had camped out in the woods in northern Germany since Sunday morning, braving sub-zero conditions and vowing to block the 11 containers of 123 tonnes of radioactive nuclear waste arriving from France.
Such shipments regularly attract protests, but this year the delay was the longest ever with demonstrators wishing to display their opposition to government plans to postpone the date when Germany abandons nuclear power.
To keep spirits up, volunteers distributed free steaming-hot soup and warm drinks, along with vegetables supplied by farmers from the area.
At times, the demonstration felt like a rave party, with a van blasting out ear-splitting techno music to entertain the troops.
"This year, we have done things that I have never seen before," said Bettina Richter, a 37-year-old therapist who said she was a veteran of such protests.
Activists resisted police as much as they could, folding their arms to make it harder for officers to remove them.
"If you cross your arms, we will have to use painful restraining methods. We don't want to hurt you," the police loudspeaker warned, provoking a cacophonous response from activists.
"Crossing arms is in no way a danger for police officers and in no way justifies the use of force and violence," activists replied on their own loudspeakers.
Eventually, inevitably, the stronger forces of the police won the day, but activists took heart from the record delays caused to the waste and looked forward with eagerness to the next battle.
"We had so many people ... and with all these young people who came for the first time, I think we're not ready to let it lie," said Richter.
© 2010 AFP