Italian police clears protesters from site of rail link

Police clashed with protesters before dawn Tuesday as officers prepared to bulldoze an Alpine valley site where drilling is planned for a high-speed rail link, injuring about 20 people, authorities said. Police in Turin said hundreds of police had entered the site in the Susa Valley, which will host some of the events in the 2006 Winter Olympics hosted by Turin.

Police said they met resistance from a small group of protesters in the valley, which is some 50 kilometers (35 miles) west of Turin. Ambulance services in Turin said they had taken around 20 people, including five police officers, to a hospital with minor injuries. Environmentalists and residents have been protesting for weeks against the drilling of a tunnel for a rail line linking Turin with Lyon, France.

Construction had been scheduled to begin last week, but was delayed by the protest. Police said they had used a bulldozer to clear the site at Venaus, including barriers erected by the protesters, and were fencing off the area.

Speaking by phone from near Susa, a protest leader, Antonio Ferrentino, said that "500 to 600 police arrived at Venaus where there were around 40 protesters sleeping in tents. They hit them and kicked them."

Mauro Russo, mayor of Chianocco in Val di Susa, told private TV Sky TG24 that protesters, including workers on strike from local factories, were occupying roads and rail lines in the area early Tuesday.

"They charged defenseless people, they hit them ... they sent people to hospital," Russo said. Italian state railways said that protesters had occupied the station at Avigliana at 7:30 a.m. (0630GMT), blocking the line that runs between Turin and Modane, France. Several events during the Feb. 10-26 games will be held in Susa Valley, and an Olympic Village in nearby Bardonecchia will accommodate some of the athletes.

The protesters claim that a high-speed train line would ruin the area and that drilling the tunnel could release potentially harmful materials such as asbestos and uranium. Supporters of the project say the high-speed line would reduce pollution by transferring traffic from road vehicles to trains, reports the AP. I.L.

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