CORRECTED: Mass protest planned against German rail project

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Opponents of one of Europe's biggest construction projects in the German city of Stuttgart said Friday they hoped at least 20,000 people would take part in a protest later in the day.

"We expect at least 10,000 to attend, and hope that there will be at least 20,000," Axel Wieland, a spokesman for the organisers, told AFP. The demo was due to start at 1630 GMT.

A previous protest on August 13 attracted "significantly" more than 20,000 people, organisers said. Police put the number of demonstrators at between 15,000 and 18,000.

The nine-year, seven-billion-euro (nine-billion-dollar) project, which has just begun, aims to transform the city and the surrounding region into the rail crossroads of 21st-century Europe.

It aims to make the southwestern city part of one of the longest high-speed lines in Europe, the 1,500-kilometre (930-mile) "Magistrale for Europe" linking Paris, Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna and Bratislava, and Budapest.

Engineers plan to blast 16 tunnels and cuttings into the many surrounding hills, build 18 new bridges, lay 60 kilometres (38 miles) of new train track and create three new stations.

Stuttgart's station will be utterly transformed, from a terminus into an underground through-station, so that trains no longer have to chug in and back out but can whiz through on their way to other European destinations.

The project, part-funded by the European Union, includes restructuring the Stuttgart rail node, creating a link to the city's airport and constructing a new line between nearby Wendlingen and Ulm.

But many in Stuttgart say the project is far too disruptive and expensive and that the rail network could be speeded up in other, cheaper ways. They also fear it will go over budget.

In particular they object to the side wings of their beloved train station building, an interwar modernist classic designed by Paul Bonatz, falling victim to the wrecking ball.

The project is set to be a major issue in elections in March in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, which is currently governed by Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives with the same coalition partners as at federal level.

© 2010 AFP

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