Violent protests over nuclear waste train

Police clashed on Sunday with activists trying to halt a train carrying nuclear waste from France to Germany as protests against the shipment turned increasingly violent.

Police used batons and pepper spray to disperse around 250 anti-nuclear activists who were trying to sabotage the railway tracks, and the activists hurled firecrackers back, police spokesman Markus Scharf told AFP.

A spokesman for activist group Aktion Castor said the police had responded with tear gas and water cannon. The woods around the train tracks are “completely clouded with tear gas”, Christoph Kleine said.

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

The train, dubbed by activists “the most radioactive ever”, is heading for the town of Dannenberg, where the 123 tonnes of waste will be loaded onto trucks for the nearby storage facility of Gorleben in central Germany.

At Hitzacker, about 20km from Gorleben, an AFP photographer said there were around 2000 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 1200 GMT (2300 AEDT) the train was still about 130km from Dannenberg.

A police spokeswoman told AFP that masked activists, dressed in black, were rushing in small groups to remove stones from the track in order to make it impassable.

Protest organisers said one of their number was injured by a police baton, another by tear gas during the clashes.

They added that about 5000 people were engaged in sit-down protests in Dannenberg, although police said there were a couple of thousand.

Earlier on Sunday, a pair of activists, backed by around 50 others, managed to hold up the train for around two and a half hours by abseiling from a bridge, police spokeswoman Cora Thiele said.

The incident took place at the town of Morschen, around 300km from Dannenberg.

Meanwhile, police carrying out checks on three vehicles discovered equipment designed to allow people to chain themselves to the track, authorities in Dannenberg said. Sixteen people were taken into custody.

The train was running around eight hours late due to the delays.

“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.

Greenpeace has called for the train, carrying radioactive waste sent back from France after retreatment, to be stopped immediately “in the interests of public safety”.

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 were previously 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 the task.

This convoy is the 11th of its kind. A previous nuclear waste shipment sent over in 2008 was blocked for 14 hours by protesters, amid a violent stand-off.

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