German rail project suspended after protests: mediator

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All work on a rail project in the German city of Stuttgart that sparked violent protests has been suspended until December to allow for further consultation with opponents, a mediator said on Thursday.

"No irreversible act" would be taken until more discussions have occurred, said Heiner Geissler, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), who was appointed as mediator on Wednesday by regional authorities.

Opponents had demanded a complete freeze of building work before agreeing to further talks, said Geissler.

Talks would begin by the end of next week with the aim of concluding "before Christmas", she added.

The mediator said suspension of the project was approved by German rail company Deutsche Bahn and the conservative head of the regional government, Stefan Mappus, a Merkel ally.

Authorities in Baden-Wuerttemberg state on Tuesday had announced a temporary halt to tree cutting and demolition of parts of Stuttgart's station, but said building work would continue.

The seven-billion-euro (9.6-billion-dollar) plan to modernise southwestern Germany's rail network has prompted mass protests in recent months, culminating in heavy clashes last Thursday that left more than 100 people injured.

Opponents say that a majority of people are against the project, dubbed "Stuttgart 21", which they claim will be late, much more expensive than planned, potentially dangerous and will do little or nothing to speed up rail traffic.

In particular, people in Stuttgart object to the partial destruction of the historic, interwar station and the felling of hundreds of trees in the city centre.

The project is set to become a major issue in elections in Baden-Wuerttemberg in March, after which the conservatives could find themselves out of the state government for the first time since 1952.

Authorities were heavily criticised for their handling of last Thursday's protests, which saw riot police use water cannons, tear gas and batons to disperse protestors, some of them teenagers.

Police at first accused protestors of lobbing bottles but then retracted this, saying only chestnuts had been thrown.

© 2010 AFP

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