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Stuttgart 21 talks begin

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Stuttgart 21 talks begin
Photo: DPA
08:33 CEST+02:00
Mediated talks between advocates and opponents of the controversial Stuttgart 21 rail project began on Friday, with the process scheduled to be aired live on the internet and public broadcasters.

Heiner Geißler, a veteran Christian Democratic politician, will lead the discussion, and plans to hear arguments from both sides on whether the massive undertaking is the right choice for the southwestern German city and surrounding region.

Geißler has said that construction on the multi-billion-euro infrastructure project will be halted during talks until November. Opponents of the expensive overhaul of Stuttgart's main train station had demanded a stop to construction as a prerequisite for discussions.

Baden-Württemberg's conservative state premier Stefan Mappus, along with state Environment Minister Tanja Gönner, Stuttgart Mayor Wolfgang Schuster and Deutsche Bahn leaders will face opponents from the environmentalist Green party, the city government and leaders of the huge public protest movement.

With talks running between 10 am and 5 pm at the Stuttgart city hall, each side will have 45 minutes to present their ideas on different aspects of Stuttgart 21.

Broadcasters Phoenix and SWR will carry the event, and it will also be available live online.

Deutsche Bahn CEO Rüdiger Grube said ahead of the talks that he hoped the public would change its mind about Stuttgart 21.

“I am very confident that conducting the arguments in the open – particularly when it comes to things that effect Stuttgart – will bring about a change in public opinion,” he told news agency DPA, adding that already “many people want it.”

Grube was backed by comments from Chancellor Angela Merkel, who called the project “clever policy for the future” during a regional conference for her conservative Christian Democrats on Thursday evening.

But the chancellor also urged Stuttgart 21 leaders to be honest about its costs, which have been a main concern of opponents.

“Simply say at the beginning what the real price is,” she said.

Protest group the Parkschützer, or Park Protectors, demanded financial transparency from Stuttgart 21 project leaders.

“The burden of proof is on Deutsche Bahn and the politicians,” spokesperson Carola Eckstein said in a statement on Friday. “It is up to them to account to the public for how public funds and assets are to be used. They must prove that this will achieve important objectives for the public, that this project represents a useful investment for society.”

Stuttgart 21 is a massive undertaking to make the city part of a 1,500-kilometre high-speed rail route across Europe. It will require 16 new tunnels, 18 new bridges, 60 kilometres of new train track and three new stations. Stuttgart's terminus will be transformed into an underground through-station – requiring a dramatic re-landscaping of the city centre.

In recent weeks demonstrations against the project have intensified, coming to a head three weeks ago when more than 100 protestors were injured as police turned water cannons, batons, and tear gas on the crowd to break up their blockade of the construction site.

Protests continued on Thursday night, but unlike previous times, some 5,000 Stuttgart 21 advocates gathered for a march through the central Schlosspark – the same site of the violent clash between the project's opponents and police three weeks ago.

DAPD/DPAka

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