Police tackle barricaded coal mine protesters in abandoned German village

LUETZERATH, Germany, January 11 (Reuters) – Hundreds of police began clearing climate protesters from an abandoned village on Wednesday during a standoff over the expansion of an open-pit lignite mine that has shed light on tensions around Germany’s climate policy during an energy crisis.

Protesters formed human chains, made a makeshift barricade of old shipping containers and chanted “we’re here, we’re loud, because you’re stealing our future” as helmeted police entered. Some threw rocks, bottles and pyrotechnics. Police also reported protesters throwing Molotov cocktails.

Demonstrators, wearing masks, balaclavas or biosuits, protested against the Garzweiler mine, run by energy company RWE (RWEG.DE) in the village of Luetzerath in the lignite district of the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

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

Economy Minister Robert Habeck of the Greens called for an end to the violence after police and protesters brawled.

“Let it be – on both sides,” he told reporters.

Police say the standoff could take weeks to resolve.

As the officers moved in, some activists perched on the roofs or windows of abandoned buildings, chanting and shouting slogans.

Others were hung from wires and wooden frames, or locked in tree houses to prevent police from dislodging them after a court ruling authorized the demolition of the village, now empty of inhabitants and owned by RWE.

Julia Riedel, who said she has been camping in the village for two-and-a-half years, said protesters took their positions “because the question here is whether the climate will cross the tipping point or not.”

Police, who had water cannon trucks on standby, rounded up and transported protesters from the site.

The project highlighted Germany’s climate policy dilemma, which environmentalists say took a back seat during the energy crisis that hit Europe after Russia invaded Ukraine, forcing a return to dirtier fuels.

It is particularly sensitive for the Greens party, which has returned to power in the coalition government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz after 16 years in opposition. Many Greens oppose the expansion of the mine, but Habeck was the face of the government’s decision.

“The empty settlement of Luetzerath, where no one lives anymore, is the wrong symbol in my opinion,” Habeck said in reference to the protest.

HEAVY MACHINERY

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

She said it was important for politically moderate citizens to attend the protest, to show ‘that it’s not just young, crazy and violent people, but there are people who care’ .

Police urged protesters to leave the area and remain peaceful.

“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,” police spokesman Andreas Mueller said.

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

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

RWE announced earlier on Wednesday that it would start dismantling Luetzerath and had started building a fence around the area.

“RWE calls on squatters to respect the rule of law and peacefully end the illegal occupation of RWE-owned buildings, factories and sites,” RWE said.

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

These include commissioning mothballed coal-fired power plants and extending the life of nuclear plants after Russia cut off gas supplies to Europe amid an energy stalemate that drove prices up. sharply.

The government has, however, brought forward the date for the closure of all lignite-fired power plants in North Rhine-Westphalia to 2030 from 2038, in line with a campaign promise from the Greens.

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

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