Diet Simon | 06.09.2009 06:36 | Ecology
A highlight of the powerful protest on a rainy day in the downtown area of the capital were more than 350 farm tractors rumbling through, some of which had been driven in convoy hundreds of kilometres around nuclear dump sites in northern Germany. At one location during the trek, the collapsing Morsleben underground nuclear dump, they were savagely attacked without cause by police using batons, tear gas, pepper spray and biting Alsatians. The police minister has apologised.
A statement from the organisers said the demonstration sent the clear signal that the time for waiting for an end to nuclear power is over. After the failure of several nuclear dumps and power stations people were simply fed up with talk about extending the operating periods of nuclear power plants.
“Today we experienced a closing of ranks between decades of resistance put up by civic initiatives, at nuclear locations, the strengthened clean energy industries, trade unions struggling for socially compatible jobs and churches campaigning for the preservation of creation. No government should believe it can hold on to atomic energy against this clear majority of the population,” the statement says.
“This resistance has reached a totally new quality in its breadth across society. Atomic energy is politically dead.”
The tractors, mostly from Gorleben but also from other parts of north Germany and from near Berlin, had lined up around mid-day from the Brandenburg Gate to the Victory Column. Many trailers had themed messages on them. The 8-km (5-mile)-long convey passed in front of Merkel's offices and through the government quarter to the historic Brandenburg Gate.
The demo was organised by an alliance of environmental and anti-nuclear groups, clean energy organisations, trade unions and churches.
A writer on IndyMedia Germany said “mainstream media reported only slowly, reluctantly, simplistically, tendentiously and in part so naively it makes your hair stand on end” but whether they liked it or not, the demonstration could not be overlooked.
Noting that it was the biggest anti-nuclear demonstration for more than ten years, this IMC poster wrote: “The anti-atomic movement is alive and perhaps also the starting point for other themes from below that we have to and want to put on the agenda again. A lot has come together here that people thought no longer existed.”
Demonstrators also came from France, Poland, Denmark and Austria. People came by buses, trains and bicycles.
The parade, starting from the central railway station and ending in the landmark Brandenburg Gate, was led by the tractors and jammed the streets for several hours. The convoy was followed by waves of colourful protesters waving flags and blowing whistles, holding high banners like "shut down nuclear reactors", “nuclear, no" and shouting similar slogans. "A vote for Merkel is a vote for nuclear," read a banner.
Crowds of well-wishers waved at the convoy of tractors, some of which pulled wagons filled with demonstrators or fake barrels of radioactive waste.
"We won't tolerate any backtracking on the nuclear exit," Fritz Pothmer, a northern German farmer, said to cheers. "It's nuclear insanity. How could Merkel become such a tool of the nuclear lobby?"
"I hope this wakes people up," said Laila Sack, a 21-year-old archaeology student at the rally. “Nuclear used to be a hot issue but it's gone quiet. I think that will change once more people realise what Merkel and the FDP want to do."
"We want to make sure that even after the election it remains clear that we can't continue to rely on nuclear energy, no matter which parties are in government," said Thomas Auer, of the Robin Wood environmental group that helped organise the protest.
“The end of nuclearisation has been promised since a long time but up until now nothing has been done," said Jochen Stay, a spokesman for the march organisers.
"We hope this will bring some colour into the campaign," said Wolfgang Ehmke, from Gorleben, one of the organisers.
The future of Germany's 17 nuclear power plants, due to be shut down by 2021 under an agreement struck in 2001 between the power companies and the previous government of Social Democrats (SPD) and environmentalist Greens, is one of the major issues separating Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) from the Social Democrats with whom they have shared power in a fractious coalition both parties want to end.
The CDU, along with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP, now in opposition), want to extend the deadline, a move opposed by the SPD and the Greens. Polls predict a new government of CDU and FDP to emerge from the election three weeks from now.
SPD chancellor candidate, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, now foreign minister, on Friday went so far as to accuse the CDU and FDP "of leading the country into an energy policy dead-end and endangering domestic security." Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, also a Social Democrat, said Merkel's conservatives should "stop being the right arm of the nuclear industry," adding that "the future belongs to renewable energies”.
The SPD and Greens (now in opposition) argue that polls show 59 percent of Germans opposing nuclear energy and wanting the plants shut down, while the CDU and FDP emphasise that until Germany has built up a significant infrastructure of alternative energies, nuclear power plants should remain on line.
Merkel looked to be closing in on victory after a poll Friday pointed to a robust majority for a coalition between her conservatives and the FDP liberals. The survey for public broadcaster ZDF showed them flying high with 52 percent support together.
Germany produces about 23 percent of its energy supply with nuclear power, 42 percent with coal-burning stations, 14 percent with natural gas and 15 percent with renewables such as wind, solar and thermal.
The government plans to shut down the nuclear plants by 2021, but protesters say they should close sooner and want to ensure the future government does not overturn that decision.
http://www.publixviewing.de/sortiment/bild-1/index.html (Courtesy of Andreas Conradt)
Press contacts at the demo:
Peter Dickel, 0531-895601, Jochen Stay, 0170-9358759, Jana Wiegreffe 0151-52562194, Wolfgang Ehmke 0170-5105606, Rüdiger Rosenthal 0171-8311051, Thomas Erbe 0175-1582329