Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

116 hurt in rail protest clashes

Police use water cannons at a demonstration to protest against a disputed railway project in Stuttgart, Germany (AP)

Police in Germany have broken up a protest rally against a disputed railway project with water cannons and pepper spray, leaving at least 116 people injured.

Organisers of the rally in Stuttgart said thousands turned out to protest, but police spokesman Fritz Erlach said there were only about 1,500 to 2,000 demonstrators.

State interior minister Heribert Rech said more than 1,000 police were on hand.

Police said 99 adults and seven minors suffered slight injuries, mostly due to the use of pepper spray. Ten others with more serious injuries were taken to hospital. Protest organisers, however, said 300 people were injured.

Recent protests, which have drawn people of all ages and social levels, have threatened to halt the building of Stuttgart 21 - one of the country's major infrastructure projects - thus becoming a national issue.

The city's conservative mayor Wolfgang Schuster called Thursday "a sad day for Stuttgart". He said: "I deeply regret that demonstrators, among them children and youths, were hurt."

The violence came as a shock to a country that is not used to seeing protests turn violent.

MPs from the opposition Left Party and The Greens criticised the police reaction to the protests as disproportionate and called an extraordinary session of the parliament's committee overseeing domestic security matters for today, German news agency DAPD said.

But police chiefs rejected criticism and said they had no other choice but to break up the protest and demonstrators refused to leave. "There was massive resistance by the protesters," Mr Erlach said. "We used water cannons and also pepper spray."

But Axel Wieland, who heads the regional division of the environmental group BUND, accused police of using sticks to control the crowd and showing "excessive violence". "The use of water cannons, tear gas and pepper spray is unjustifiable because all protest participants were peaceful," he said.