Protests over German vote to keep nuclear energy

image captionThe protest banner showed Mrs Merkel sharing a toast with the head of one of the nuclear plant operators

Activists have unfurled a giant protest banner in Berlin as Germany's parliament voted to extend the life of nuclear plants.

Greenpeace demonstrators scaled the headquarters of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrat party to drape the banner down its glass facade.

Others formed a human chain around the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag.

Inside, MPs voted through the energy bill by 308 votes to 289.

The country's 17 nuclear plants are having their operating life extended by an average of 12 years.

In 2000, the then Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, agreed to mothball the last power plant by 2021, in response to public concerns over safety.

Mrs Merkel intends to channel some of the billions of extra euros the plant operators will earn into solar and wind power.

Court appeal

The Greenpeace activists unfurled a banner showing Mrs Merkel clinking schnapps glasses with the head of plant operator RWE, Juergen Grossmann.

image captionGreen MPs wore symbolic black

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Berlin against the extension in September, and protesters warn of more protests to come.

They argue that it is irresponsible to promote nuclear power while there is no permanent storage site for the waste produced.

There are also fears about the stations' vulnerability to terrorist attack as well as their safety at some of the ageing installations.

In parliament, Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen said the nuclear extension was simply a bridge in the transition to renewable sources, and he accused opposition parties of not being constructive.

"You are stoking fears, not because it helps the people but because you think it helps you," he said.

Social Democrat party leader Sigmar Gabriel accused the coalition government of "dividing society where it was already united".

His party and the Greens say Mrs Merkel does not have the right to steer the bill past the upper house of parliament, where it would encounter obstacles.

He said his party would sue the government in Germany's constitutional court.

Members of the Green party attended the debate in symbolic black clothes and yellow crosses.

"The government promised an energy revolution but this is a putsch here," said the head of the Greens' parliamentary group, Juergen Trittin.

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