DANNENBERG, Germany (AFP) – Protests against a train carrying nuclear waste from France to Germany erupted in violence Sunday as police wielding batons charged activists trying to halt the cargo's progress.
Around 1,000 activists attacked police on the tracks near Dannenberg, the final destination for the train before the waste is loaded onto trucks, a police spokeswoman told AFP.
"Police responded with batons and water cannon," she said.
"I can confirm there were arrests and people injured but I am not able to say how many," another police spokesman said.
He added the activists appeared to be "members of the anarchist scene, who threw flares and fired tear gas at police."
The new clashes followed earlier altercations between police and protesters during which authorities deployed pepper spray, tear gas and water cannon to disperse some 250 anti-nuclear activists trying to sabotage the tracks.
During this clash, the activists managed temporarily to set fire to an armoured police vehicle. The fire was quickly extinguished and no officer was hurt, a police spokesman said.
Christoph Kleine of the activist group "Aktion Castor" said the woods around the train tracks were "completely clouded with tear gas." Police helicopters were circling overhead.
The train carrying the nuclear waste, dubbed by activists "the most radioactive ever", is heading for Dannenberg, where the 123 tonnes of waste will be loaded onto lorries for the nearby storage facility of Gorleben, in central Germany.
At 1500 GMT, the train reached the town of Lueneburg, some 60 kilometres (37 miles) from Dannenberg.
Activists were doing everything in their power to slow the progress of the train, which environmental group Greenpeace has called to be halted immediately "in the interests of public safety."
Earlier Sunday, near the town of Morschen, around 300 kilometres from Dannenberg, a pair of activists backed by around 50 others managed to abseil from a bridge, causing a two-and-a-half hour delay, police said.
Police said activists were also rushing the railway in small groups and scrapping out stones from under the track, making it impassable.
"The police have repelled several attempts by small groups of protesters who were attempting to block the route," a police spokeswoman told AFP.
The head of one group of protesters called for calm while placing the blame for the escalating violence squarely on authorities.
"We do not want a debate about violence. We want a debate about nuclear power, yes or no," said Wolfgang Ehmke from the group "citizens' initiative Luechow-Dannenberg."
After several delays, the train was running 10 hours late and a Greenpeace spokesman said its pace would likely slow further as it neared its destination.
"We're expecting the train some time today, but the closer it gets to Dannenberg, the more actions there will be to stop it and the slower it will travel," a Greenpeace spokesman told AFP.
On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Dannenberg to signal their opposition to the cargo. Organisers said 50,000 people had turned out but police said the figure was closer to 20,000.
Around 16,000 police have been mobilised to deal with the protests in Germany.
Germany's anti-nuclear campaigners have been outraged by a vote in parliament to extend the life of the country's 17 nuclear reactors which previously were meant to come offline in 2020.
Opinion polls show that most Germans oppose parliament's decision.