Police move on coal mine protesters barricaded in abandoned German village

Police move on coal mine protesters barricaded in abandoned German village

LUETZERATH, Germany, Jan 11 (Reuters) – Hundreds of police began clearing climate protesters from an abandoned village on Wednesday in a standoff over the expansion of an opencast lignite mine that has highlighted tensions over Germany’s climate policy amid a crisis energetic.

Protesters formed human chains, made a makeshift barricade out of old shipping containers and chanted “we’re here, we’re loud, because you’re stealing our future” as helmeted police moved in. Some threw stones, bottles and pyrotechnic devices. Police also reported that protesters were lobbing petrol bombs.

The demonstrators, wearing masks, hoods or biosuits, have protested against the Garzweiler mine, run by energy firm RWE ( RWEG.DE ) in the village of Luetzerath in the brown coal district of the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg plans to join the demonstration on Saturday, a spokesman for the environmental group Luetzerathlebt told Reuters.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck of the Greens called for no further violence after police and protesters clashed.

“Leave it at that – from both sides,” he told reporters.

Police say the standoff could take weeks to resolve.

As the officers entered, some activists sat on the roofs or windows of abandoned buildings, cheering and shouting slogans.

Others hung from wires and wooden frames, or were wedged into tree houses to make it harder for police to move them after a court order allowed the demolition of the village, which is now otherwise empty of residents and in owned by RWE.

Julia Riedel, who said she has camped in the village for two and a half years, said the demonstrators had taken their positions “because the issue here is whether the climate will pass the tipping point or not.”

Police, who had water cannon trucks on standby, left and took some protesters away from the scene.

The project has highlighted Germany’s dilemma over climate policy, which environmentalists say has taken a backseat to the energy crisis that has hit Europe after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, forcing a return to dirtier fuels.

It is particularly sensitive for the Green party, which is now back in power as part of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition government after 16 years in opposition. Many Greens oppose the mine expansion, but Habeck has been the face of the government’s decision.

[1/11] Demonstrators throw Molotov cocktails and firecrackers at police officers during a protest against the expansion of German utility RWE’s open-pit Garzweiler lignite mine in Luetzerath, Germany January 11, 2023. REUTERS/Benjamin Westhoff

“The empty Luetzerath residence, where nobody lives anymore, is the wrong symbol in my opinion,” Habeck said, referring to the demonstration.


Birte, a 51-year-old midwife who joined the protest on Sunday, was in tears as police led her away.

She said it is important for politically moderate citizens to participate in the protest, to show “that these are not just young, crazy, violent people, but that there are people who care.”

The police have called on the protesters to leave the area and remain calm.

“It’s a big challenge for the police and we need a lot of special forces here to deal with the situation. We have air rescue specialists,” said police spokesman Andreas Mueller.

“These are all factors that make it difficult to say how long this will last. We expect it to continue for at least several weeks.”

A Reuters eyewitness saw police using heavy machinery to begin dismantling the high barricades.

RWE said earlier on Wednesday that it would begin dismantling Luetzerath and had begun building a fence around the site.

“RWE calls on residents to respect the rule of law and end the illegal occupation of buildings, plants and sites belonging to RWE peacefully,” RWE said.

The fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine has prompted Scholz’s government to reverse course from previous policies.

They include firing up coal plants and extending the life of nuclear power plants after Russia cut gas supplies to Europe in an energy gridlock that sent prices soaring.

However, the government has brought back the date when all brown coal power plants will close in North Rhine-Westphalia to 2030 from 2038, accepting a campaign promise from the Greens.

Writing by Paul Carrel and Matthias Williams; Editing by Tom Hogue, Christopher Cushing, Conor Humphries and Alison Williams

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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