Violent protests in Germany against nuclear waste train

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Protests against a train carrying nuclear waste from France to Germany erupted in violence Sunday as police wielding batons charged activists trying to halt the cargo's progress.

Authorities deployed pepper spray, tear gas and water cannon to disperse some 250 anti-nuclear protesters trying to sabotage the tracks. The activists hurled back firecrackers, police spokesman Markus Scharf told AFP.

During the clash, the activists managed temporarily to set fire to an armoured police vehicle. The fire was quickly extinguished and no officer was hurt, a police spokesman said.

Christoph Kleine of the activist group "Aktion Castor" said the woods around the train tracks were "completely clouded with tear gas."

The train carrying the nuclear waste, dubbed by activists "the most radioactive ever", is heading for Dannenberg, where the 123 tonnes of waste will be loaded onto lorries for the nearby storage facility of Gorleben, in central Germany.

At Hitzacker, some 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Gorleben, an AFP photographer reported there were around 2,000 peaceful demonstrators on the track being watched by a large number of police, some of whom were mounted.

Police helicopters had previously circled the whole area.

At 1500 GMT, the train reached the town of Lueneburg, some 60 kilometres from Dannenberg.

Activists were doing everything in their power to slow the progress of the train, which environmental activist group Greenpeace has called to be halted immediately "in the interests of public safety."

Earlier Sunday, near the town of Morschen, around 300 kilometres from Dannenberg, a pair of activists backed by around 50 others managed to abseil from a bridge, causing a two-and-a-half hour delay, police said.

Police said activists were also rushing the railway in small groups and scrapping out stones from under the track, making it impassable.

"The police have repelled several attempts by small groups of protesters who were attempting to block the route," a police spokeswoman told AFP.

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."

After several delays, the train was running 10 hours late and a Greenpeace spokesman said its pace would likely slow further as it neared its destination.

"We're expecting the train some time today, but the closer it gets to Dannenberg, the more actions there will be to stop it and the slower it will travel," a Greenpeace spokesman told AFP.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Dannenberg to signal their opposition to the cargo. Organisers said 50,000 people had turned out but police said the figure was closer to 20,000.

Around 16,000 police have been mobilised to deal with the protests in Germany.

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.

Earlier on Saturday, the train ran the gauntlet of hundreds of French protesters.

The train is returning German nuclear waste for storage after it was treated in France by the Areva group but activists say the facility at Gorleben is not fit for storage.

The last time the convoy took place, in 2008, the shipment was halted for around 14 hours amid a violent struggle between police and protesters.

© 2010 AFP

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