German police break up protest, 116 injured

Police broke up rally against a disputed railway project with water cannons.

Berlin: Police in southwestern Germany broke up a protest rally against a disputed railway project with water cannons and pepper spray, leaving at least 116 people slightly injured.

Organisers of the rally in Stuttgart said thousands turned out to protest on Thursday, 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 officers were on hand.

Police said in a statement 99 adults and seven minors suffered slight injuries, mostly due to the use of pepper spray. Ten others with more serious injuries were brought to hospitals.

Protest organisers, however, said some 300 people were injured.

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

The city`s conservative mayor Wolfgang Schuster called yesterday as "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.

Lawmakers 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 today, German news agency DAPD reported.

But police officials rejected criticism and said they had no other choice but to break up the protest and demonstrators refused to leave.