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Germany: Police clear climate activists from coal village

January 11, 2023

Police in Germany have started to surround the western village of Lützerath, which has been occupied for months by climate protesters ahead of a planned eviction. The site is slated to be used to mine coal.

Policemen lead away an activist in the village of Lützerath
Police have started the evacuation of anti-coal activists staging an "active defence" of the villageImage: Ina Fassbender/AFP

Police deployed around Lützerath on Wednesday and started the eviction of climate protesters in the village.

The energy giant RWE is set to bulldoze the village in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) — the most populous federal state in Germany — to start opencast brown coal mining operations.

What's the latest?

"The evacuation of Lützerath has begun," police wrote on Twitter. "The area is being fenced off. People in the cordoned-off area currently have the opportunity to leave the place without further police measures."

During the evacuation, police said activists had thrown stones and fireworks in their direction.

"Immediately refrain from throwing Molotov cocktails. Behave peacefully and non-violently!" police tweeted.

Police had earlier made a loudspeaker announcement at the site, telling protesters they could leave without repercussions.

DW political correspondent Leonie von Hammerstein is on the ground in Lützerath. She said people were hiding behind barricades that they have constructed, as well as treehouses.

"There are treehouses and people have chained themselves to these treehouses. It's a very dynamic situation."

"We have already seen two activists being carried out, being arrested by police. It is pretty tense. Both police and activists expect this to last at least for a couple of days if not weeks."

"There are studies that say the coal here is not needed. What activists are hoping to achieve is that the government at least reassesses the situation."

Despite the early initial violence, observers said police officers had not encountered the massive resistance that had been feared. After about two hours, the police described the situation as "stable."

The leader of Germany's DPolG police union, Rainer Wendt, said targeted communication had contributed to the de-escalation of the situation.

Michael Martens, the Deputy Federal Chairman of another police union, the GDP, said people were being encouraged to leave voluntarily.

"Currently, Lützerath is surrounded — not to encircle the people in Lützerath but so that no one can get in. Currently, everyone can get out and without consequences," Martens said.

For the latest images on the ground, DW has a live stream of the situation on YouTube, which you can watch in the player or in the following link.

Greta Thunberg to visit Lützerath

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg plans to join the protests in Lützerath on Saturday, the organizers of the vigil said.

RWE, the energy firm which owns the neighboring mine, tweeted on Wednesday that the expansion of the area was needed due to Germany's ongoing energy crisis, sparked by Russia's war in Ukraine.

The "Luetzerath coal is needed... during the energy crisis and thus use less gas in electricity generation" RWE posted on Twitter, adding the demolition had passed an independent review.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck of the Greens said that he understood the magnitude of the task of trying "to make progress, to implement climate protection, with all the political forces that one can muster," but called for no further violence after police and protesters scuffled. "Leave it at that — from both sides," he told reporters. "I believe that climate protection and protests need symbols, but Lützerath, where no one lives anymore, is from my point of view, the wrong symbol."

Meanwhile, NRW Interior Minister Herbert Reul (CDU) has called upon the climate activists to leave Lützerath. "Protect the climate, but do not protect no violent disruptors," Reul said in Düsseldorf on Wednesday.

In the morning, he said, 350 people were still unlawfully present in Lützerath. Among them were a "medium, double-digit of number violent disruptors," said Reul.

Why is the village being demolished?

RWE wants to expand the Garzweiler open pit mine, which lies adjacent to Lützerath, and start to mine the lignite underneath the village.

Former residents of the village, which the company now owns, have long since left the settlement.

The protesters in Lützerath were told to expect the eviction to start as early as Wednesday after a regional court on Monday ruled that the eviction could go ahead. As the clearances took place on Wednesday, the Aachen Administrative Court on Wednesday rejected two further emergency applications against the ban on people staying in the village.

RWE and the government of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia last autumn agreed to end lignite-based power generation as early as 2030 and not in 2038.

Activists, police in German coalmine standoff

Environmental groups were hoping that the village would be spared after Chancellor Olaf Scholz's coalition, which includes the Green Party, came to power in December 2021 with a promise to phase out coal usage.

However, Russia's war in Ukraine has precipitated an energy crisis, forcing the German government to reopen shuttered coal power plants to secure the country's power needs.

Speaking to DW, Green Party lawmaker Kathrin Henneberger said that although her party is part of the government, she was against the mining of lignite at the site.

"It's very important that the coal stays in the ground so that we can reach our climate goals," she said.

jsi, rc/rs (dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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