From Der Spiegel in Germany:
Germany Shocked by ‘Disproportionate’ Police Action in Stuttgart
A hardline police operation against demonstrators protesting against a new railway station project in Stuttgart has shocked Germany, after more than 100 people were injured by tear gas and water cannon. German commentators argue that the police went overboard and warn of more violence to come.
The controversial Stuttgart 21 railway project has been the focus of increasing protests in recent months. But Thursday seemed to mark a turning point as the conflict between the authorities and protesters escalated dramatically.
Around 600 police used water cannon, tear gas, pepper spray and batons in an operation against over 1,000 demonstrators in the southwestern city of Stuttgart on Thursday. The activists had tried to use a sit-down protest to prevent the city’s Schlossgarten park from being cleared so that work could begin on felling trees in the park as part of construction work on the new station. Thursday’s protests were attended by a broad cross-section of society, including pensioners and children.
The protest‘s organizers said in a statement that more than 400 protestors had suffered eye irritation as a result of the police’s operation, with some suffering from lacerations or broken noses.
The German Red Cross said on Friday morning that 114 demonstrators had been treated on site, and a further 16 were taken to hospitals. Among the injured were school children who had been taking part in an officially registered demonstration.
Images of people bleeding from the eye after being hit by water cannon featured on German television and newspapers Friday. One 22-year-old protestor suffered a serious eye injury after being hit in the right eye by a water cannon jet, a Stuttgart doctor told the news agency DPA, adding that the man might lose his sight in that eye as a result.
The Stuttgart 21 project involves moving the city’s main railway station underground and turning it from a terminus into a through station. The project is controversial partly because of its price tag — it is slated to cost €4.1 billion ($5.38 billion) — and because of the trees that will be cut down in the Schlossgarten park. There is also criticism that the project does not make sense from a transport point of view, as few main lines go through the city.
‘Confusing Germany with Putin’s Russia’
There has been a heated reaction to the police’s use of force, which was condemned by members of the center-left Social Democrats, Green Party and the far-left Left Party, which are all in opposition on the national level. Jan Korte of the Left Party said that it was not acceptable that that kind of police action was used against pensioners and school students. The Green Party filed a motion to have the issue debated in the German parliament, the Bundestag, on Friday, but it was rejected.
Several politicians criticized Heribert Rech, the interior minister for the state of Baden-Württemberg, where Stuttgart is located, for allowing the operation to go ahead. National Green Party co-leader Cem Özdemir, who is also from the state, said Rech was “confusing Germany with Putin’s Russia.” It was disproportionate that “pepper gas was sprayed in the eyes of grandmothers and children at close range,” he said. “We are in Germany. Such methods do not exist here.” …
The escalation is likely to cause political problems for the state government, a coalition of Merkel‘s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the business-friendly Free Democratic Union. State elections will be held next March, and the Stuttgart 21 project is already a key campaign issue. The CDU has been in government in Baden-Württemberg for 57 years. If it were to lose the election, it would be a blow to the chancellor and her national government.
Construction work continued on the site on Friday under massive police protection, and the first trees in the park have now been cut down. But the next wave of conflict is not far off: Some 100,000 people are expected to take part in the next mass demonstration, which is planned for Friday evening.
On Friday, German commentators take [sic; took] a look at the police operation, with all agreeing it was disproportionate. …
The conservative Die Welt writes:
“Deploying heavily armored riot police against students is reminiscent of the old days and old attitudes which are not exactly popular in Germany’s liberal southwest.’ …
The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
“Bizzare images and sounds were transmitted live via a mobile webcam out of Stuttgart’s Schlossgarten park on Thursday and beamed onto thousands of computer screens all over Germany. At first glance the images seemed familiar from … anti-nuclear protests in the past: Demonstrators sitting in the path of a police vehicle, police emerging dressed in absurdly war-like armour, wanting to clear the way for their colleagues and finally resorting to water cannons to do so. But (the images) didn’t fit with what came out of the headphones. Not only were a considerable number of the demonstrators chanting ‘Wir sind das Volk’ (‘We are the people,’ a slogan associated with pro-democracy protesters in East Germany) but they also began singing the German national anthem — further evidence for the presence of a core conservative element in the protest movement. After all, what is at stake is the kind of thing that conservatives like to preserve: almost 300 trees — some of which are very old — and a city park threatened with being turned into a construction site.
“The otherwise respectable citizens, who react to water cannons by singing the national anthem, see themselves as legitimate representatives of the nation and are in the process denying this role to those (authorities) who sent police into the park. Germany’s conservatives no longer feel represented by local and national government.”
— David Gordon Smith and Josie Le Blond
Update 14 October 2010: here.
The World from Berlin: ‘The Demonstrations Against Stuttgart 21 Will Go On’: here.
Germany’s lower house voted today to extend the use of the country’s 17 nuclear plants by an average of 12 years – but opposition parties vowed to challenge the decision: here.
Large numbers of anti-nuclear activists have turned out during the past five days to protest against the transport of radioactive waste through France and Germany: here.
Germany’s Green Party in Hamburg announced on Sunday that they will quit the coalition state government with the conservative Christian Democrats: here.
The end of the conservative-Green alliance in Hamburg: here.