Armoured guard for nuclear waste train

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The Independent Online

Armoured cars were patrolling a broad tract of the German countryside last night as environmentalists tried to halt a train laden with nuclear waste from France.

Armoured cars were patrolling a broad tract of the German countryside last night as environmentalists tried to halt a train laden with nuclear waste from France.

Despite tight security measures, protesters managed to put up obstacles along the railway line the consignment has to pass to reach its destination: an underground disposal site near the village of Gorleben.

Police made several arrests in the initial skirmishes yesterday. The previous nuclear shipment to Gorleben four years ago sparked pitched battles and left scores of injured, as thousands of environmentalists fought more than 10,000 police and troops.

Now there are fears that those violent scenes are about to be repeated. When the train carrying six caskets of highly radioactive waste set off at dawn yesterday, some 1,200 guards were riding along, and up to 30,000 more troops were trying to secure the railway lines across Germany.

As the train was scheduled to enter Germany, around midnight, thousands of environmentalists were converging on the Lüneburg Heath in the north of the country, where anti-nuclear organisations have set up "peace camps". The vulnerable 50-kilometre stretch leading to the market town of Dannenberg was under siege, with troops patrolling each road crossing. Most of the battles were fought along this line four years ago.

Yesterday police had already clashed with 150 demonstrators and made several arrests. True to previous game plans, anti-nuclear protesters were trying to tunnel under the tracks.

If there is any serious disorder in the coming days, it is most likely to occur in Dannenberg, where the shipment must be loaded tomorrow on to special trucks for the final 20-kilometre leg to Gorleben. Dozens of water cannon were lined up along the railway sidings where the giant cranes have been waiting motionless for four years.

Gorleben has been the rallying cry of a generation of environmentalists, whose leaders now issue greetings from plush cabinet offices. To the youths freezing in their tents out on the heath last night, Green politicians such as Joschka Fischer, and especially the Environment Minister, Jürgen Trittin, are traitors.

Mr Trittin declared yesterday that he would not be going to Gorleben, and appealed to his erstwhile followers to demonstrate peacefully. Four years ago, as a Green MP, he had travelled there to show solidarity with the protesters.

Although the government is committed to a phase-out programme, this extends over decades rather than years. Supporters who had waited 30 years to witness the miracle of a Green politician in charge of the environment portfolio are deeply disappointed. For the movement, the coming days will mark the end of an era of innocence, and for Mr Trittin, possibly the end of a career.

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