German police move on protest over coal mine expansion

Police face activists as they start the evacuation of the village of Luetzerath, western Germany, on Jan 11, 2023, while anti-coal activists stage an "active defence" of the village, which is slated for forced evacuation, ahead of a planned demolition to expand a coal mine. Police have secured approval from the state interior ministry to clear the village but activists have warned there will be "no limits" in Luetzerath, a village in North Rhine-Westphalia state, was once home to around 100 people but has been abandoned over the years as uncertainty hung over its planned evacuation for the expansion of the neighbouring coal mine Garzweiler. (INA FASSBENDER / AFP)

LUETZERATH — Police began clearing climate protesters out of an abandoned village on Wednesday in a showdown over the expansion of an opencast lignite mine that has highlighted tensions around Germany's climate policy during an energy crisis.

The protesters formed human chains, made a makeshift barricade out of old containers and chanted "we are here, we are loud, because you are stealing our future" as police in helmets moved in. Some protesters tried to stop others from throwing beer bottles at the police.

The protest follows a regional court decision on Monday that upheld an earlier ruling to vacate the village whose land and houses now belong to RWE

Police said the protesters had also begun throwing Molotov cocktails and stones.

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The demonstrators, many wearing masks or balaclavas, have been protesting 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.

RWE in a statement on Wednesday morning said it would start to demolish the former settlement of Luetzerath.

"RWE is appealing to the squatters to observe the rule of law and to end the illegal occupation of buildings, plants and sites belonging to RWE peacefully," RWE said.

"Nobody should put their own health and life at risk by participating in illegal activity," it added.

The protest follows a regional court decision on Monday that upheld an earlier ruling to vacate the village whose land and houses now belong to RWE.

Police on Tuesday began dismantling barricades and dragged away activists at the demonstration. They urged protesters to avoid violence and exercise restraint, saying that some activists had begun to attack officers and thrown rocks in recent days.

The protests highlight growing tensions over Berlin's climate policy, which environmentalists say took a back seat during the energy crisis that hit Europe last year after Ukraine conflict, forcing a return to dirtier fuels.

It is particularly sensitive for the Greens party, now back in power as part of Chancellor Olaf Scholz's coalition government after 16 years in opposition between 2005-2021.

The fallout of Russia's invasion of Ukraine has prompted Scholz's government to change course on previous policies.

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Those include firing up mothballed coal power plants and extending the lifespan of nuclear power stations after Russia cut gas deliveries to Europe in an energy standoff that sent prices soaring.

The government has, however, brought forward the date when all brown coal power plants will be shut down in North Rhine-Westphalia, to 2030 from 2038, acceding to a campaign promise from the Greens.

The Garzweiler mine extracts around 25 million tonnes of lignite every year, according to RWE. The company has said it supports both energy transition and a temporary increase in the use of lignite-fired plants to tide Germany through the energy crisis.