Striking miners lift siege of Bonn streets

Peace returned to the streets of Bonn yesterday as striking miners lifted their four-day siege and retreated 20 miles to the north. It was, however, merely a tactical withdrawal they claimed, as they pitched their tents in a Cologne stadium.

Hans Berger, the leader of the miners' union, vowed that "50,000, maybe 100,000" people would descend on the seat of government if today's talks failed to yield results. Mr Berger was to have seen Helmut Kohl on Tuesday, but the meeting was postponed by the Chancellor at short notice, as demonstrators camped outside his office.

With great reluctance, the miners heeded their leader's advice to leave Bonn, but not before branding Mr Berger a "Judas". Six thousand demonstrators from the Saarland had arrived on Tuesday night and early yesterday morning, replacing the Ruhr contingency who decamped to Cologne.

Mr Berger's agreement to keep the miners away from Bonn appears to have extracted concessions from the government.

At today's meeting, Mr Kohl is expected to propose a delay in the programme to cut back coal subsidies. Although the government still insists that annual support for the industry, which last year amounted to 10bn German marks, should come down to DM5bn by 2005, the new plan foresees the closure of only one pit before 2000.

The revised package is also expected to include a more generous budget for retraining and job creation. Nevertheless, the end result is likely to remain the same. By 2005, an estimated 50,000 miners will have lost their jobs, leaving just 35,000 places in the surviving pits.

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