Police move on coal mine protesters barricaded in abandoned German village

LUETZERATH, Germany, Jan 11 (Reuters) – Hundreds of police began clearing climate protesters from a deserted village on Wednesday, underscoring tensions surrounding Germany’s climate policy amid an energy crisis linked to the expansion of an open pit lignite mine.

Protesters formed chains and made a makeshift barricade out of old containers, chanting “we’re here, we’re going to be loud because you’re stealing our future” as police in helmets came in. Some threw rocks, bottles and pyrotechnics. Police also reported that protesters were carrying petrol bombs.

Demonstrators wearing masks, balaclavas or biosuits protest against the Hartzweiler mine operated by energy firm RWE ( RWEG.DE ) in the village of Luetzerat in the brown coal region of western North Rhine-Westphalia state.

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

Greens Economy Minister Robert Habeck called for no more violence after clashes between police and protesters.

“Let’s go from both sides,” he told reporters.

Police said the standoff could last for weeks.

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

Others were hung from wires and wooden frames, or hung from trees to make it harder for police to evict them after a court order allowed the village to be demolished.

Julia Riedel, who said she has been camping in the village for two and a half years, said the protesters took their positions because the issue here is whether the climate will fly or not.

The police, who were waiting for water trucks, took away some of the protesters.

The project underscores Germany’s climate policy dilemma, which environmentalists say has been forced to fall back on dirty fuels amid the energy crisis gripping Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

He is particularly sensitive to the Green Party, which returned to power as part of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition government after 16 years in opposition. Many Greens oppose the mine expansion, but Habek has been the face of the government’s decision.

“The uninhabited Luetzerat neighborhood is the wrong symbol in my opinion,” Habek said, referring to the demonstration.

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Birte, a 51-year-old midwife who joined the demonstration on Sunday, broke down in tears as police took her away.

According to him, it is important that politically moderate citizens participate in the action and show that “these are not just young, crazy, violent people, but there are people who care about them.”

The police called on the protesters to leave the area and maintain peace.

Police spokesman Andreas Müller said: “This is a big problem for the police and we need a lot of special forces to deal with the situation here. We have air rescue specialists.”

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

A Reuters witness saw police using heavy equipment to dismantle high fences.

RWE said on Wednesday it would start dismantling Luetzerat and build a fence around the area.

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

The fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced Scholz’s government to reverse its previous policies.

These include keeping coal-fired power plants running and extending the life of nuclear power plants after Russia cut gas supplies to Europe.

But the government has moved forward from 2038 to 2030, following the Greens’ campaign promise to close all brown coal power plants in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Written by Paul Carrel and Matthias Williams; Edited by Tom Hogg, Christopher Cushing, Conor Humphreys and Alison Williams

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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