Police move into a coal mine, demonstrators holed up in an abandoned German village

LUZERAT, Germany (January 11) (Reuters) – Hundreds of police began clearing out a deserted village of climate change protesters on Wednesday in a standoff over an opencast pottery mine expansion that highlighted tensions over climate policy in Germany during an energy crisis. .

Forming human chains, demonstrators erected a makeshift barrier from old containers and chanted “We are here, we are loud, because you are stealing our future” as helmeted police entered. Some threw stones, bottles and fireworks. Police also reported that protesters threw petrol bombs.

The demonstrators, dressed in facemasks and masks or bio suits, protested at the Garzweiler mine, which is operated by energy company RWE. (RWEG.DE) in the village of Luetzerath in the brown coal region of North Rhine-Westphalia.

A spokesperson for the environmental group Luetzerathlebt told Reuters that climate activist Greta Thunberg plans to join the demonstration on Saturday.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck of the Green Party called for no further violence after a scuffle between police and protesters.

“Leave it at that… from both sides,” he told reporters.

Police say the standoff could take weeks to resolve.

As the officers advanced, some activists sat on rooftops or windows of abandoned buildings, chanting and chanting slogans.

Others hung suspended from wire and wooden frames, or barricaded themselves in treehouses to make it more difficult for the police to evict them after a court ruling allowed demolition of the now depopulated village owned by RWE.

Julia Riddell, who said she has been camping in the village for two and a half years, said the protesters have made their stand “because the issue here is whether or not the climate will cross a tipping point.”

The police, who had water cannon trucks on standby, drove away and carried some of the protesters from the site.

The project highlighted Germany’s dilemma over climate policy, which environmentalists say set back during the energy crisis that hit Europe after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, forcing them to turn back to dirtier fuels.

It is particularly sensitive for the Greens, who are now back in power as part of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition government after 16 years in opposition. Many greens oppose the expansion of the mine, but Habeck was the face of the government’s decision.

“The empty settlement of Luzerat, where no one lives anymore, is a false symbol from my point of view,” Habeck said, referring to the demonstration.

Heavy machinery

Burt, the 51-year-old midwife who joined the protest on Sunday, was in tears when she was taken away by police.

She said it was important for politically moderate citizens to attend the protest, to prove “that these are not just young, crazy, violent people, but that there are people who care.”

Police urged the demonstrators to leave the area and remain peaceful.

“It’s a big challenge for the police and we need a lot of special forces here to deal with the situation. We have air rescue specialists,” said police spokesman Andreas Mueller.

“These are all factors that make it difficult to know how long this will take. We expect this to continue for several weeks at least.”

A Reuters witness saw police using heavy machinery to begin dismantling tall barricades.

RWE said earlier Wednesday that it would start dismantling Luetzerath, and has begun building fencing around the area.

“RWE appeals to the occupiers to abide by the rule of law and to peacefully end the illegal occupation of RWE buildings, factories and sites,” RWE said.

The fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine prompted the Shultz government to change course from previous policies.

Those measures include turning on coal-fired power plants and extending the life of nuclear power plants after Russia cut off gas shipments to Europe in an energy crisis that sent prices soaring.

However, the government has moved forward the date by which all brown coal power plants in North Rhine-Westphalia will be closed, to 2030 from 2038, according to an election campaign promise from the Greens.

Written by Paul Carell and Matthias Williams; Editing by Tom Hogg, Christopher Cushing, Connor Humphreys and Allison Williams

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