SUESCHENDORF, Germany - Anti-nuclear protesters who
dodged security forces to chain themselves to railtracks forced a
train bearing atomic waste on Wednesday to retreat near the end
of its journey to a dump in north Germany.
Riot police broke up a separate blockade attempt further down
the tracks after charging a group of some 200 activists who
staged a sit-in on the line.
Wielding pneumatic drills and heavy bolt cutters, police
freed three of the five protesters who had attached themselves by
their arms to tubes cemented into the bed of the rail line but
they could not say when the train could move again.
An anti-nuclear activist flashes a victory sign as he sits on top of a rail container in Wendisch-Evern, near Dannenberg, March 27, 2001 as German riot police protect the track. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
``Once the people have been removed, the tracks will need to
be repaired,'' said a police spokesman on the scene in
Sueschendorf, 16 miles from the Dannenberg depot where the waste
is due to be unloaded onto flatbed trucks for its final journey
by truck to the Gorleben dump on the Elbe river.
``It could take 10 minutes or it could take hours,'' he added.
The train, traveling since Monday from a waste reprocessing
plant in northern France, withdrew to nearby Dahlenburg for
refueling and maintenance.
The action, carried out overnight by an environmentalist
group called Robin Wood, delayed further the arrival of the six
''Castor'' containers of reprocessed nuclear waste which had been
scheduled on Tuesday.
``It's an amazing success to force the Castors to turn back,''
said one protester, saying this was the first such retreat since
controversial transports of reprocessed waste starting in 1995.
Some 20,000 police have been deployed to guard the shipments
in one of Germany's largest peacetime security operations.
A group of around 200 activists briefly staged a separate
sit-in protest on the tracks in Dannenberg before being charged
by baton-wielding riot police. A small number of protesters
responded by firing flares and throwing stones before retreating.
One was knocked unconscious during scuffles.
Demonstrators gather to block railroad tracks near Luenenburg, Tuesday March 27, 2001, as part of ongoing actions against the resumption of nuclear waste transports to Germany. Train in the background is to transport demonstrators, arrested by police, out the area. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
``It was a shame, we could have had a good peaceful occupation
of the track with two or three hundred people,'' said Matthias
Hofmann, a 27-year-old student from Hanover who said he had taken
part in many anti-nuclear protests.
``If they can't send their waste to France then the reactors
will have to be shut down,'' he said, describing the blockades as
''strangulation tactics'' on German nuclear plants which do not
have their own reprocessing facilities.
Police deployed water cannon and detained nearly 600 people
Tuesday evening after protesters fired flares and threw stones.
They said the scuffles were provoked by leftwing activists, some
of whom used slingshots to pelt police with stones.
If and when the train reaches its destination at Dannenberg,
loading is expected to take between eight and 12 hours before the
final 16 mile road journey to Gorleben.
Under pressure from France to reduce a backlog of German
waste at its La Hague reprocessing plant near Cherbourg,
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder lifted a transport ban imposed on
safety grounds in 1998. Two cargoes a year are now planned.
The transports are part of a deal struck with the electricity
industry last year to phase out Germany's 19 reactors by about
2025 -- a timeline considered too long by anti-nuclear
Police try to free four environmental activists who are attached to the tracks in Sueschendorf, northern Germany, Wednesday, March 28, 2001 blocking the way of a train carrying nuclear waste. The activists have attached themselves with concrete and iron tubes to the tracks. Thousands of demonstrators are protesting against the transport of nuclear waste to the northern German town of Gorleben. (AP Photo/Jockel Finck)