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German police clear activists from village to make way for coal mine


Climate activists hoping to stop the expansion of a coal mine near Lützerath, Germany, have been removed from protests sites they have occupied for months or even years



Environment



16 January 2023

A protestor in Lützerath, Germany, on 11 January

REUTERS/Christian Mang

Hundreds of climate activists, including Greta Thunberg, have been removed by police from protest sites around the German village of Lützerath, as authorities battle to contain public dissent over the expansion of a nearby coal mine.

Activists have been squatting in Lützerath, which lies in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, for more than two years in protest at the planned expansion of the Garzweiler coal mine by German energy company RWE.

RWE owns the village and almost all of its original residents have been evicted, ahead of its planned demolition to make way for the mine’s expansion.

But protestors have occupied buildings and treehouses in and around the site for months – in some cases years – in the hopes of halting the development.

Police launched a large operation to clear the area of activists on 11 January, after the German government came to an agreement with RWE that the mine’s expansion could go ahead under certain conditions. Ministers say the project is necessary for Germany’s energy security.

In return for permission to expand Garzweiler into Lützerath, RWE has agreed to remove coal from its power supplies by 2030, eight years earlier than planned, and to scrap plans to expand the mine into other surrounding settlements.

Climate protestors say an expansion of coal mining activity will accelerate climate change and undermines the German government’s promises to tackle climate change. One told the BBC that digging new coal is akin to “throwing the Paris Agreement in the bin”. Lignite coal, which is mined at Garzweiler, is the most polluting fossil fuel.

Speaking to activists on 14 January as part of a large rally in fields just outside Lützerath, Thunberg said Germany is “embarrassing itself right now” by allowing the expansion of the coal mine. She was photographed being removed by the police from a nearby protest site on 15 January, according to the German newspaper Bild, alongside other protestors.

In total, German police say they have removed around 300 activists from Lützerath and the surrounding area in recent days, paving the way for the site to be secured. Tension between activists and the police has been high, with officers criticised for using water cannons and batons to clear activists.

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