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Angry miners fail to move king Kohl

The bell tolled for Helmut Kohl, rung by angry miners as they impaled an effigy of the Chancellor on the fence outside his office in Bonn. "Come out, you coward," screamed 10,000 burly men, but the man mountain remained unmoved.

He would not let himself be intimidated in this way, he said, cancelling a face-to-face meeting with union leaders. The message was communicated to Hans Berger, head of the miners' union, and relayed to the demonstrators by megaphone.

At a stroke, the mood of the peaceful gathering turned ugly. A group of miners made a dash towards the chancellery, scattering the thin green line of diminutive traffic police who had thought they had come for a picnic. A detachment of 6ft tall body-builders in riot gear rushed forward to stop the breach, only to be outflanked at another barrier a hundred yards away.

About 100 protesters pushed against the barricade and broke through, shattering the window of one police van and hurling eggs at the officers. The disciplined union members were straining at the leash. Ignoring the pleas of shop stewards to leave, they resolved to sit in the middle of the road, at a spot in the heart of the government district where no demonstrator had ever trod.

"We stay here," they chanted. "We want work." It took the leader of the Greens, Joschka Fischer, to calm them down. Mr Fischer, no fan of fossil fuel himself, strolled casually into the melee from his office near by, and dispensed pacifist advice to anybody who would care to listen. "What the chancellery has done is a provocation," he said, "but you should not swallow the bait." The miners applauded coal's fiercest enemy, and eventually moved away.

Government politicians, meanwhile, were under siege in their offices, giving the opposition a monopoly on milking the crowd. Up popped Rudolf Scharping, the Social Democrats' parliamentary leader. "If Herr Kohl will not go to the people, then the people must go to him," he intoned. That went down well. Union bosses had apparently done a deal with Mr Kohl to take their supporters home and return to Bonn alone for the final talks about pit closures tomorrow.

However, the troops who had been marched up the hill were refusing to be marched down again. Last night large numbers were insisting that they would stay exactly where they were.

The stage is thus set for the ultimate confrontation between the conservative government and the vanguard of what is left of the German proletariat. The miners, who fear job losses if the government implements its plan to halve coal subsidies, emerged from yesterday's skirmish as the moral victors. They now enjoy the wholehearted - if only verbal - support of the opposition, who feel obliged to demonstrate solidarity by crippling the government's legislative programme.

The Social Democrats, who run the coal regions and will shoulder a large proportion of subsidies under the new regime, walked out of talks with Mr Kohl over tax reforms in protest at the cuts. Without their backing, he is in danger of becoming a lame-duck chancellor for the rest of his tenure.