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Lützerath: Climate activists nearly cleared after clashes

January 15, 2023

German police officials said the situation at Lützerath was calm a day after clashes broke out between climate protesters and police officials. The site lays bare the debate over Germany's climate challenges.

Police officials walk through a street, against background of building that has been partly demolished in Lützerath
Activists had been camping at the village to protest against its erasure since 2020Image: Federico Gambarini/dpa/picture alliance

German police officials on Sunday said they removed climate activists perched in treehouses from the village of Lützerath, a day after clashes broke out between the parties.

"There are no further activists in the village of Lützerath," police said, adding that the buildings had already been cleared by Friday, and now 35 "tree structures" and almost 30 wooden constructions had also been cleared away.

Two people were holding out in an underground tunnel at the site, police added. After the eviction is complete, what remains of the village will be razed so that the expansion of an open-cast lignite mine can proceed. 

Climate activists argue that the village and others nearby should not be demolished and the coal under them should be left in the ground. Activists say burning the coal undermines Germany's efforts to cut back greenhouse gas emissions.

Tensions between police officials and activists escalated on Saturday, with officials deploying water cannons and batons against demonstrators there.

Around 20 demonstrators were injured and taken to the hospital, a medic with one of the protesting groups said.

Lützerath becomes flash point in climate debate

Lützerath has become a flashpoint in the debate over climate change in the country since the German government has allowed the country's biggest power supplier, RWE, to use up the coal in the area to meet energy demands.

The German government said the country would need to ramp up coal usage to cope with any potential shortage of energy supplies following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. RWE argues coal in the area is needed to get through the winter months.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck of Germany's Green Party said last June that the increased burning of coal was "bitter" but "simply necessary" to lower gas usage. Before the war in Ukraine, Germany got much of its gas from Russia. 

What's next for the protests? Leonie von Hammerstein reports from Lützerath

Situation calm on Sunday

The situation at Lützerath was calm on Sunday, a police spokesman said.

The spokesman said that around 70 officers had been injured since Wednesday, when police first began evicting people from the area. Many of those officers were injured during Saturday's clashes, the spokesperson added.

Climate activists hold a press conference on Sunday
Climate activists hold a press conference on SundayImage: Thomas Banneyer/dpa/picture alliance

Indigo Drau, a spokeswoman for a group protesting against the destruction of the village, accused the police of "pure violence" during clashes Saturday.

She accused the police of beating protesters "unrestrainedly." Climate organizers said around 35,000 protesters demonstrated on Saturday, while police officials put the figure at around 15,000.

Police have denied accusations of violence being used against protesters.

Criminal proceedings have been launched in around 150 cases, police said, including charges relating to resistance against police officers and damage to property.

rm/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)