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Northlanders protest nuclear weapons overseas

Two northern Wisconsin residents are heading overseas next week to join in a protest against nuclear weapons on an American air base in Germany.

Bonnie Urfer and John LaForge of Luck, Wis., are joining a delegation from around the country to participate in a long-standing campaign July 12-18 at Büchel Air Base, in west-central Germany.

Others participating in the campaign include Steve Baggarly of Norfolk, Va., Kathy Boylan of Washington, D.C; Zara Brown of Minneapolis, Susan Crane of Redwood City, Calif., Carmella Cole and Ralph Hutchison of Knoxville, Tenn., Sr. Carol Gilbert, O.P., and Sr. Ardeth Platte, O.P., of Baltimore, Md., and Leona Morgan of Albuquerque, N.M. Seven of the participants have served a combined total of 36 years in U.S. jails and prisons for nonviolent protest actions taken against nuclear weapons.

LaForge said the delegation's goal is the removal of 20 B61 nuclear-armed gravity bombs at the U.S. air base.

"The world wants nuclear weapons abolished," said Urfer, a longtime peace activist who has spent 6½ years incarcerated for misdemeanors resulting from "civil resistance" against war, nuclear weapons and nuclear power. "To waste billions of dollars replacing the B61s when they should be scrapped is criminal considering how many millions are in need of famine relief, emergency shelter and safe drinking water."

Organized by Nukewatch, the nuclear watchdog group in Luck, Wis., the delegation will join a coalition of 50 German peace and justice groups in a peace camp near the base.

Since March 26, activists in Germany have been participating in a 20-week series of nonviolent protests — "Twenty Weeks for Twenty Bombs" — to rid Büchel of the U.S. Air Force's B61 bombs. The actions continue through Aug. 9, the anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945.

The week the U.S. delegation is heading to Germany has been dubbed "International Week" by organizers, and joins peace activists from Belgium, the Netherlands and France, as well as Germany.

The U.S. delegation and the German public are concerned the U.S. is planning to produce 480 new hydrogen bombs — the B61-12 — to replace the 180 B61s now deployed in five European NATO countries, including the 20 at Büchel. Production is not expected to start before 2022. Overall cost of the new bomb is estimated to be at least $12 billion.

"Our united resistance will stop the new, illegal nuclear bombs nobody needs," said Marion Küpker, a disarmament campaigner and organizer with DFG-VK, Germany's oldest peace organization, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. "We want Germany to be nuclear-weapons-free," Küpker said.

Under a scheme known as "nuclear sharing," Germany, Italy, Belgium, Turkey and the Netherlands still deploy a total of about 180 U.S. H-bombs and conduct NATO nuclear war maneuvers using the U.S. bombs, although all six states are parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Articles I and II of the treaty explicitly prohibit nuclear weapons from being either transferred to or accepted from other countries.

The U.S. is the only country in the world that arms other countries with its nuclear weapons. (China may lease a nuclear-powered submarine but not nuclear weapons from Russia.)

Although the planned B61-12 has been called a new weapon, the Pentagon states the program is "modernization" to skirt the treaty's prohibitions, LaForge said.

The March 26 start date of "Twenty Weeks for Twenty Bombs" is doubly significant for Germans. On March 26, 2010, Germany's Bundestag voted overwhelmingly — across all parties — to have the government work to permanently remove the U.S. weapons from German territory. And on March 26 this year, the U.N. General Assembly in New York launched formal negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons, LaForge said.

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