German nuclear protesters attack rail firm's offices

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The Independent Online

Germany had a foretaste of approaching violence yesterday when environmentalists stepped up an anti-nuclear protest by laying waste to the Berlin offices of the national railway company and acts of sabotage disrupted train services.

Germany had a foretaste of approaching violence yesterday when environmentalists stepped up an anti-nuclear protest by laying waste to the Berlin offices of the national railway company and acts of sabotage disrupted train services.

The overnight assault on the headquarters of the railway's freight division was the ninth recorded incident since the announcement that a train returning reprocessed nuclear waste from France was about to roll. The shipment is due to leave La Hague in France at dawn on Monday, bound for Gorleben, Germany's main nuclear dump and the site of massive protests four years ago.

Some 15,000 riot police and special troops are gathering on the heaths of northern Germany to protect the train from roughly the same number of protesters, who have also begun pitching up tents around Gorleben. Most plan peaceful actions, but a hard core of an estimated 1,000 anarchists are once again preparing spectacular stunts.

Scores of protesters were injured in clashes four years ago when police deployed water cannon to flush protesters out of the containers' path. Shocked by the mayhem, the Kohl government put further deliveries on hold, while its successors resolved to find alternatives.

But to the particular dismay of the Greens in Gerhard Schröder's government, phasing out nuclear power has proved to be a great deal more difficult than anticipated. In the meantime, Germany is legally obliged to take back from France its own highly radioactive waste, which has nowhere else to go.

Jürgen Trittin, the Green Environment Minister, must be looking forward to the coming days with deep foreboding. Four years ago he visited Gorleben to offer his solidarity to the demonstrators. Now he sits in a government that will have to issue the order to disperse the same crowds.

To avoid injuries, the authorities have hired a group of "conflict consultants". Their job is to interpose between demonstrators and the police. Judging by the 20 firebombs employed in the raid on the railway offices, their task will not be easy. Police are receiving computer-assisted coaching in the techniques of dragging thousands of people from a road without injuring them or getting hurt themselves.

Gorleben, a symbol for the past decades of the environmentalist crusade, will highlight the ebbing of Green power this time.

Many Green voters are asking what their party has achieved in government, if even Mr Trittin and his colleagues cannot stop the nuclear train.

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