Thousands protest against Germany's nuclear plants

Part of the human chain formed by anti-nuclear protesters at Ludwigsburg castle, Germany, 12 March  The human chain snaked across the German countryside

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Tens of thousands of people have protested in Germany against the government's plans to extend the life of its nuclear reactors.

Demonstrators in Stuttgart formed a human chain reaching 45km (27 miles) for the protest, planned before the current nuclear crisis in Japan.

Organisers said events in Japan had proved atomic power was an uncontrollable and risky technology.

Nuclear policy is a key issue in German regional elections this year.

About 60,000 people turned out for the protest, according to organisers. Police said the number was in the tens of thousands.

The demonstrators formed a human chain between Stuttgart and the Neckarwestheim nuclear plant, waving yellow flags with the slogan "Nuclear power - no thanks".

The protest took place in the south-western state of Baden-Wuerttemberg where Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives may lose power in elections two weeks from now, partly because of rising support for the Greens, analysts say.

Start Quote

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking to reporters in Berlin, 12 March

We know how safe our plants are and that we do not face a threat from such a serious earthquake or violent tidal wave”

End Quote Angela Merkel German chancellor

Mrs Merkel, whose government extended the lifespan of nuclear power plants last year, sought to play down safety concerns about German plants.

"We know how safe our plants are and that we do not face a threat from such a serious earthquake or violent tidal wave," she told reporters.

"But we will learn what we can from the events in Japan, and in the coming days and weeks will follow closely what the analysis yields."

The Japanese government has been seeking to play down fears of a meltdown at the Fukushima 1 plant, which was badly damaged in Friday's devastating earthquake and tsunami.

A powerful explosion hit the station on Saturday, destroying a building housing a reactor, but the authorities said the reactor itself was intact inside its steel container.

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