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French police arrest anarchists for rail sabotage

Text by: AFP
3 min

Following a weekend of disruptions caused by a series of sabotage attacks on France’s SNCF rail network, police arrested at least 10 members of an ultra-left group in connection with the incidents.

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French police raided alleged anarchist cells in three cities on Tuesday and arrested at least 10 suspects following a series of sabotage attacks on the country's high-speed rail network.

Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said police intelligence officers had been investigating an "ultra-left anarchist movement" for several months and had acted following the weekend's disruption of train services.

None of those arrested works for the SNCF state rail network, she added.

A source close to the investigation told AFP anti-terrorist officers were examining "possible links between the suspects and the German hard-left, which has claimed responsibility for actions agains trains carrying nuclear waste".

President Nicolas Sarkozy congratulated police on the arrests and welcomed "the rapid and promising progress made in the context of the inquiry".

Thousands of passengers and more than 160 train services were delayed Saturday after a gang jammed steel rods across overhead power cables on three high-speed lines between Paris and London, Brussels and the French regions.

The attack halted trains and damaged several sections of 25,000-volt power lines, but noone was hurt.

In a separate incident on Sunday in the southwest of the country, another high-speed train rammed a pair of concrete blocks placed on a line. There were no injuries and it is not yet clear whether the incident was related.

Alliot-Marie said 10 suspects were being held, but an interior ministry official said more than 20 had initially been detained in raids conducted in Paris, the central town of Tarnac and the northern city of Rouen.

Following Saturday's incident, which followed at least one similar incident involving the use of rods designed to reinforce concrete and a series of other acts of vandalism, officials spoke of a "concerted campaign" of sabotage.

Experts from the SNCF state rail company told reporters that the sophistication of the attacks showed the saboteurs were technically very competent, since neutralising the power lines required expert knowledge.

The TGV high-speed rail network has been the target of several extremist campaigns over recent years by criminals seeking to blackmail SNCF, Basque separatist guerrillas and militant trade unionists.

Saturday's attacks were among the best planned, taking out trains on lines north, east and south of the capital at almost the same moment and plunging the national network into chaos.

In addition to national services, Eurostar trains to Brussels and London and Thalys journeys to the Netherlands and northern Europe were halted.

Despite the most intense protests by anti-nuclear campaigners for several years, a French shipment of radioactive waste arrived in Germany early on Tuesday after a 20-hour delay.

Eleven lorries carrying 123 tonnes of nuclear waste arrived at the Gorleben dump in northern Germany just after midnight (2200 GMT), police said.

For most of the journey from western France the waste travelled by train and was halted for half a day at the German border by three activists who had jammed their arms into a concrete block under the track.

Once in Germany, around 16,000 baton-wielding police were deployed as around 15,000 demonstrators rallied along the route to try to hinder progress using tactics such as setting barricades on fire on the tracks.

The train eventually arrived at its final destination on Monday, more than 14 and a half hours late and the cargo was then transferred to lorries for the final 20 kilometres (12 miles) trip to Gorleben.

Along the final leg some 1,000 activists had to be removed one-by-one by riot police before the lorries could pass. Tractors had been parked across the road and activists chained themselves to tall cement pyramids.

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