DANNENBERG, Germany: 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.
Around 1,000 activists attacked police on the tracks near Dannenberg, the final destination for the train before the waste is loaded onto trucks and taken to a storage facility, a police spokeswoman told AFP.
“Police responded with batons and water cannon,” she 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.”
Both protesters and police were wounded in the clashes, another police spokesman said in the northwestern German town 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.
A female protester was evacuated by helicopter to hospital after being wounded in nearby Harlingen by the horse of a mounted police officer and apparently suffering from a broken shoulder, he added.
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.
Christoph Kleine of the activist group “Aktion Castor” said the woods around the train tracks were “completely clouded with tear gas.” Police helicopters were circling overhead.
Head of the German Police Union, Konrad Freiberg, told a regional newspaper the protests had reached “a new level of violence.”
The train carrying the 123 tonnes of nuclear waste, dubbed by activists “the most radioactive ever”, is 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.
At 1900 GMT the train was blocked at Dumstorf, about 30 kilometres (19 miles) from Dannenberg, by 70 protesters massed on the train tracks, a police spokesman said.
More than 2,000 protesters — anti-nuclear activists place their numbers at 50,000 — were assembled in Harlingen, just 15 kilometers from Dannenberg. Police who used teargas to disperse some trying to remove material under the rail ties, he said.
Up to 1,500 more protesters are also thronged at the entrance of Gorleben, a police spokesman said. The train is not expected there before Monday morning.
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.
Stefanie Koenig, protesting at Harlingen, between Lueneburg and Dannenberg, brought along her two sons, aged three and eight.
“We thought about leaving the children with their grandparents, because with them, we cannot take part in some of the more radical protests. Otherwise, we would have done it.”
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.