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German police say Lützerath anti-coal protest nearly cleared

January 13, 2023

Authorities said most climate activists occupying the village were removed, but several retreated to underground tunnels. Greta Thunberg is expected to join a major demonstration on the site on Saturday.

Activists' tree houses in Lützerath being removed by police
Activists had built tree houses during their two-year occupation of the siteImage: Ina Fassbender/AFP

Authorities said on Thursday that most of the western German village of Lützerath had been cleared of climate activists, who were trying to block the expansion of a coal mine there.

Riot police spent a second day under heavy rain removing people from buildings and other structures, such as tree houses.

Over a thousand police officers were involved in the operation, with bulldozers moving in in their wake to finish clearing areas and removing debris from parts of the site.

"The weather conditions are a big problem today. We now have to analyze carefully whether it is even possible today to clear tree houses without risk," Aachen police spokesperson Andrew Mueller said.

German energy company RWE is carrying on a lignite-mining operation in Lützerath. Though it was largely abandoned, environmental activists occupied the village in hopes of stopping the mine's expansion.

A court order gave authorities and RWE the go-ahead to remove the activists, but the standoff has become the latest flashpoint in a long-running battle between climate protesters and German authorities. 

Police in Germany clear coal mine climate camp

Some activists retreat to tunnels

Demonstrations on Thursday of the remaining activists were largely peaceful, although some of them threw stones, bottles and firecrackers at the approaching police.

Several people retreated into underground tunnels, further hindering authorities' efforts to completely clear the site.

Aachen Police chief Dirk Weinspach told German broadcaster WDR that at least one of the tunnels they found had people in it. "It is impossible to say how long the evacuation from the underground structures will take. It will also be important to proceed very carefully and not take any risks," he said. 

"We don't know how stable these underground structures are. We also don't know what the air supply is like there," he added.

An aerial view of police cars at Lützerath, with the large coal mine in the background
Police cars descended upon Lützerath on Thursday to disperse climate activists from the areaImage: Federico Gambarini/dpa/picture alliance

Protesters have said hundreds of people were still holed up in the village. "We are ready to last here as long as possible and maybe even make it to Saturday so that all the people who are going to come to the demonstration will join us here," Milena Glimbovski, a 32-year-old activist, said.

Activists occupy Green Party offices

Separately, around 30 climate activists also occupied the Green Party's office in Düsseldorf in solidarity with the Lützerath protesters.

Düsseldorf is the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia, the state Lützerath is in and where the Greens govern in coalition with the conservative Christian Democratic Union.

The protesters demanded a moratorium on coal mining in the region. They were ultimately evicted by police after 10 hours.

State party leader Tim Achtermeyer described the move as an unacceptable form of political blackmail.

Activists also smashed the windows of the Greens offices in the nearby city of Aachen, and in Leipzig, in the eastern state of Saxony.

Greta Thunberg to visit Lützerath

Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg said she planned to join the demonstration in Lützerath on Saturday. 

"The science is clear, the most affected people are clear: no more fossil fuels!" Thunberg wrote on Twitter. 

Luisa Neubauer, a well-known German activist, was among the protesters removed from a rally near the site by police. She accused authorities of disproportionate action against activists.

jcg/fb (Reuters, dpa)

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