German police clear blockades at village condemned for mine

LUETZERATH, Germany (AP) — Several hundred climate activists tried Tuesday to prevent heavy machinery from reaching an abandoned village in Germany that is due to be cleared for the expansion of a coal mine, even as police pushed back protesters and removed road blocks ahead of a possible clearance this week.

The standoff between police and protesters followed a regional court’s decision Monday rejecting a last-ditch attempt by the activists to stay in the hamlet of Luetzerath, west of Cologne, which has become a battleground between the government and environmentalists.

About 300 people refused to heed the ruling arguing that civil disobedience at the site was justified in the face of the climate crisis.

Utility company RWE wants to extract the coal beneath Luetzerath, which it says is necessary to ensure energy security in Germany. The company reached a deal with the regional government last year that allows the village to be destroyed in return for ending coal use by 2030, rather than 2038.

But climate campaigners say the agreement to expand the massive open-cast Garzweiler mine goes against Germany’s international commitments to reduce emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases. They also cite studies suggesting the coal beneath Luetzerath may never be needed.

Tuesday’s protest began peacefully, with activists sitting in self-dug trenches and atop large tripods along the roads to the village. Others locked arms in long lines to prevent police and heavy machinery from getting through.

As officers slowly pushed the activists back and carried some away by force, scuffles briefly broke out. On at least two occasions police used pepper spray to stop protesters from advancing again. They in turn responded with chants of “We are peaceful, what are you?” and “We’re here for your children too.”

Some protesters expressed particular anger at the environmentalist Green party, which is part of the regional and national governments. It supports the deal with RWE, citing the company’s claim that the lignite coal beneath Luetzerath is needed and other surrounding villages will be saved under the agreement.

A group of activists dumped 250 kilograms (550 pounds) of coal bricks outside the Greens’ regional headquarters in Duesseldorf, along with a wooden cross meant to symbolize the death of the party’s ideals, German news agency dpa reported.

A townhall meeting Tuesday attended by regional officials and police is expected to see disagreement over the mine come to a head.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.