Police in Germany try to free blocked nuclear waste train
German police Monday began dispersing activists who succeeded in peacefully blocking a train carrying nuclear waste from France to Germany after earlier protests erupted in violence.
Fruitless negotiations took place with the activists before police began to remove them from railway tracks at Harlingen in northern Germany in the small hours of Monday, a police spokesman told AFP.
Thousands of activists invaded the tracks at Harlingen which is about 15 kilometres (10 miles) from Dannenberg, the final destination for the train before the waste is loaded onto trucks and taken to a storage facility.
Protests against the convoy had erupted in violence Sunday as police wielding batons charged around 1,000 activists trying to halt the cargo's progress.
Police moved in with batons and water cannon after the demonstrators attacked them, a spokeswoman said.
"I can confirm there were arrests and people injured but I am not able to say how many," another police spokesman said.
He added the activists appeared to be "members of the anarchist scene, who threw flares and fired tear gas at police."
The operation to clear the tracks looked like being a long one with between 3,000 and 5,000 people sitting on and near the tracks and police having to dislodge them one by one in sub-zero temperatures.
A spokesman for the Lower Saxony police union told AFP that he expected the 14-wagon train to remain where it was until dawn.
Both protesters and police were injured in Sunday's clashes, another police spokesman said in the northwestern German town of Lueneburg.
"There were wounded on the side of the protesters as well as among the police but I cannot say how many," the spokesman said.
The new clashes followed earlier altercations between police and protesters during which authorities deployed pepper spray, tear gas and water cannon to disperse some 250 anti-nuclear activists trying to sabotage the tracks.
Head of the German Police Union, Konrad Freiberg, told a regional newspaper the protests had reached "a new level of violence."
The 123 tonnes of nuclear waste, dubbed by activists "the most radioactive ever", are be loaded onto lorries at Dannenberg for transfer to the nearby storage facility of Gorleben, in central Germany.
The train is returning German nuclear waste that was treated in France by the Areva group but activists say the Gorleben facility is not fit for storage.
Activists were doing everything in their power to slow the progress of the train, which environmental group Greenpeace has called to be halted immediately "in the interests of public safety."
The head of one group of protesters called for calm while placing the blame for the escalating violence squarely on authorities.
"We do not want a debate about violence. We want a debate about nuclear power, yes or no," said Wolfgang Ehmke from the group "citizens' initiative Luechow-Dannenberg.
Germany's anti-nuclear campaigners have been outraged by a vote in parliament to extend the life of the country's 17 nuclear reactors which previously were meant to come offline in 2020.
Opinion polls show that most Germans oppose parliament's decision.
The last time the convoy took place, in 2008, the waste shipment was halted for around 14 hours amid a violent struggle between police and protesters.
© 2010 AFP