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Police carry Greta Thunberg from German coal protest

January 17, 2023

Renowned Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has been removed from an area of the large coal mine protest in the village of Lützerath by German police. She had joined the demonstrations last week.

Police carry Greta Thunberg, January 17, 2023.
Thunberg arrived at the site on FridayImage: Roberto Pfeil/dpa/picture alliance

Images emerged on Tuesday showing German police carrying Greta Thunberg away from a part of the major coal mine protests at the now-uninhabited village of Lützerath in western Germany. 

Protesters have been occupying the site in large numbers for well over a week, opposing the demolition of the derelict buildings now owned by the RWE energy company.

Police started clearing the site in earnest last Wednesday. Thunberg arrived there on Friday, in time for a major demonstration on Saturday. 

Demonstrators were nearing mine's escarpment — police

Police said that a group of protesters, Thunberg among them, had moved away from the larger body of demonstrators and started approaching the face of the Garzweiler mine.

Setting foot on the steep decline at the edge of the mine is not permitted for safety reasons. Thunberg was one of several protesters carried away from the escarpment. Police also said that one person had jumped into the mine.

"Greta Thunberg was part of a group of activists who rushed towards the ledge," a spokesperson for Aachen police told the Reuters news agency. "However, she was then stopped and carried by us with this group out of the immediate danger area to establish their identity."

The spokesperson said it wasn't clear what would happen to Thunberg or the group she was detained with, or whether the activist who jumped into the mine was hurt. In total, police said several dozen people were either carried or led away.

Reuters later cited an eyewitness as saying Thunberg could subsequently be seen sitting alone on a large police bus. 

Many of the protesters have been taken into custody at least briefly in the past 10 days or so, but others have simply been removed from areas that police wanted to start demolishing or clearing and then released.

A large group of protesters approaching the face of the opencast Garzweiler mine in Lützerath. January 17, 2023.
Protesters are not permitted to descend the face of the opencast mine and approach the mining area for their own safetyImage: Federico Gambarini/dpa/picture alliance

Parallel protests around the state on Tuesday

Other demonstrations connected to Lützerath took place around the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia on Tuesday. 

A group calling itself Ende Gelände, which loosely, but less poetically, translates as "an end to mined areas" in English, occupied the Inden coal mine — also operated by RWE — on the outskirts of the border city of Aachen.

"Even if you destroy Lützerath, we will fight on: until you stop burning coal, extracting fracking gas and building autobahns," an Ende Gelände spokeswoman, Charly Dietz, said. 

Around 130 people blocked the tracks of a train line carrying coal to a coal-fired power plant in Neurath. 

In the state capital of Düsseldorf, around 150 people marched from the state parliament to the city center in protest at the village's demolition. Police said the demonstration was peaceful for the most part, although some participants sat and tried to block roads along the protest route. 

Climate activist Greta Thunberg looks on as police officers detain her on the day of a protest against the expansion of the Garzweiler open-cast lignite mine of Germany's utility RWE to Luetzerath, in Germany, January 17, 2023 that has highlighted tensions over Germany's climate policy during an energy crisis.
Germany increased its usage of coal for electricity generation in 2022, a result of the restrictions on Russian oil and gas imports and of the country's almost-completed shutdown of nuclear powerImage: Wolfgang Rattay/REUTERS

Also in Düsseldorf, around 15 activists from the group calling itself Extinction Rebellion tried to block the entry to the state's interior ministry building, responsible among other things for policing. Three of them glued or otherwise attached themselves to the door.

Protesters have called for the resignation of state Interior Minister Herbert Reul. Extinction Rebellion said he was ultimately responsible for "police violence against peaceful protesters" during the large demonstration on Saturday.

A combination of media and helmet camera footage showing some incidents of officers using force have trickled into the public sphere in recent days, some of which Thunberg herself shared via her social media accounts.

Activists organizing the protests have claimed that in the region of 100 protesters have been injured around the Lützerath site.

When pressured about failing to offer evidence to back this up, they argued that police had been checking at hospitals and medical facilities with a view to arresting or taking the personal details of people they had not detained.

Germany's reliance on coal for electricity rose in 2022, exceeding one-third of power generation in the third quarter of the year. This is largely because of the restrictions on imports of oil and gas from Russia amid its invasion of Ukraine, but also because of the country's almost-complete shutdown of its nuclear power plants.

msh/wmr (AFP, dpa, epd)

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing.

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