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Germany: Police, coal protesters face off in Lützerath

January 9, 2023

Climate activists occupying the condemned village of Lützerath in western Germany have lost a last-ditch court appeal as the police prepare to drive them out.

Protesters stand on the edge of the mine pit in Lützerath
Protesters are defying the order to clear the village before the mine expansionImage: Ina Fassbender/AFP/Getty Images

German police warned they would not allow their officers to be targeted with violence amid growing tensions with climate protesters in the condemned village of Lützerath on Monday.

The village is set to be swallowed up by the local coal mine, run by Germany's energy giant RWE. But organizations such as the Last Generation and Fridays for Future oppose the plan. Hundreds of protesters are now squatting in the area, with scuffles with police breaking out over the weekend. Police were reportedly pelted with stones, attacked with paint, and police vehicles were damaged.

Police say officers should not be 'patsies'

On Monday afternoon, a court confirmed that the order to clear the village was "presumably valid," dealing a serious blow to environmental activists.

Police are likely to start the clearance operation on Wednesday. Before that, a final informational meeting is scheduled for tomorrow with the protesters.

Activists in western Germany protest against coal mine

Police commander Willi Sauer said he would not let his colleagues become "defenseless targets" for attacks.

Sauer noted that officers on the scene were "working countless hours, neglecting their personal lives, sometimes spending hours in the rain soaked to the bone and have to listen to insults and curses."

"They do not deserve, and I will also not allow them to be displayed as patsies for social conflicts," Sauer told reporters.

Police also warned that clearing the aera would be difficult as the condemned village is on the edge of the mine pit. In addition to occupying surviving houses in Lützerath, protesters have already raised barricades and built tree houses some six meters (19 feet) above ground to frustrate any eviction efforts.

Greens under fire for agreeing to mining

The looming confrontation has placed Germany's Green party in an awkward position. The Greens are part of the ruling coalition both on the federal level, and in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW) where the mine is located. The party is defined by its pro-environment agenda, but the war in Ukraine has forced the German government to change its plans on coal amid an energy crisis.

NRW Minister for Climate Protection Mona Neubaur has repeatedly noted that the deal between the government and RWE included saving five other villages and the energy company pledging to phase out coal in 2030, eight years earlier than originally planned.

Neubaur told Germany's DPA news agency that she could not accept violence as a tool for achieving political goals.

"This is why I'm asking all those involved in and around Lützerath to act peacefully and not tighten the screws of escalation," she said.

Left party leader to protest in Lützerath

Meanwhile, the head of the opposition Left party, Janine Wissler, decried the plans to mine out the village as "madness" and a "frontal attack on climate protection."

Wissler called out the Germany's Economy Minister Robert Habeck from the Green party for his role in the dispute, and accused the party of betraying its climate agenda over RWE's interests.

Addressing reporters in Berlin, Wissler also pledged to join the protesters.

"I will participate in activities there," she said.

dj/ar (EPD, dpa, AFP)