German police drag away activists protesting coal mine expansion

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Police on Tuesday began dismantling barricades and dragged away activists staging a sit-in protest against the expansion of an opencast lignite mine that has highlighted tensions over Germany’s climate policy during an energy crisis.

The demonstrators, many wearing masks or balaclavas, have for weeks been protesting against the Garzweiler mine, run by energy firm RWE in the abandoned village of Luetzerath in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

They have formed human chains, staged sit-in protests and occupied deserted buildings in Luetzerath which will be razed to make way for the mine’s expansion. Some dug themselves into holes in the ground while others hung suspended from wooden tripods.

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“You consider this a peaceful eviction? It is ridiculous what you are doing, how are you not embarrassed?” said one protester as police dragged away activists who were sitting on a muddy track.

The protests highlight growing tensions over Berlin’s climate policy, which environmentalists say took a back seat during the energy crisis that hit Europe last year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, forcing a return to dirtier fuels.

It is particularly sensitive for the Greens party, now back in power as part of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition government after 16 years in opposition between 2005-2021.

Many Greens oppose the mine’s expansion, but Economy Minister Robert Habeck of the Greens party has fronted the government’s decision.

Local police urged protesters to avoid violence and exercise restraint.

“We have barricades that are currently being expanded in the village in particular to represent obstacles to us,” Chief Operations Officer Wilhelm Sauer said on Monday.

The protest follows a regional court decision on Monday that upheld an earlier ruling to vacate the village whose land and houses now belong to RWE.

Some of the activists have built treehouses in Luetzerath, believing these would make it harder for police to force them to leave. The move echoes a similar protest in 2013 in the Hambach forest, which delayed an RWE coal mining project for years and became a symbol of anti-coal demonstrations.

The fallout of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted Scholz’s government to change course on previous policies.

Those include firing up mothballed coal power plants and extending the lifespan of nuclear power stations after Russia cut gas deliveries to Europe in an energy standoff that sent prices soaring.

The Garzweiler mine extracts around 25 million tons of lignite every year, according to RWE.

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