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Climate activists clash with police as German ghost town set to be engulfed by coal mine

APTOPIX Germany Coal Mine Protests
Police officers carry a demonstrator to clear a road at the village of Luetzerath, near Erkelenz, Germany, January 10, 2023. Michael Probst/AP

Berlin — Police clashed Tuesday with climate change activists occupying a tiny town in Germany that's set to be engulfed by a large coal mine. Several hundred activists moved into the town of Luetzerath weeks ago, after its residents moved out and energy giant RWE took ownership of all of its buildings and land. RWE has been approved to demolish the hamlet to expand a nearby mine and extract the lignite (brown coal) reserves under the town.

The activists have resisted efforts to clear them from homes and makeshift shelters, including tents and treehouses, in the town, but when police started trying to push them out Tuesday to make way for demolition equipment, some refused to go.

Videos posted to social media showed large numbers of police and activists, locked arm-in-arm, pushing and shoving, and the clashes grew serious enough that police resort to tear gas on a couple occasions. Police could be seen detaining people on the ground, but there was no immediate word on the number of arrests.

All lawsuits filed to block the demolition of Luetzerath for the mine works have been rejected by German courts. The responsible district, Heinsberg, prohibited the activists' occupation, clearing the way for the eviction push that took place Tuesday, involving more than 1,000 officers.

RWE has said it's necessary to mine the significant lignite reserves under the town, and as Germany and Europe face sky-rocketing energy prices amid Russia's war on Ukraine, it has the backing of the North Rhine-Westphalia state government.

"In the current energy crisis situation, it is clear to everyone that the coal under Luetzerath is needed to ensure security of supply," the state's top administrator, Minister President Hendrik Wüst, said in an interview with local newspaper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger. "No one took the decision lightly to use this coal."

Germany Coal Mine Protests
Police officers and protesters clash on a road at the village Luetzerath near Erkelenz, Germany, January 10, 2023. Michael Probst/AP

The activists, backed by some scientists from regional universities who have joined forces under the guises of a "CoalExit Research Group," say RWE primarily wants to dig up Luetzerath because the coal under the town can be extracted more easily, making it more profitable. The company denies that allegation.

Police Chief Dirk Weinspach of the city of Aachen has described the activists in Luetzerath as predominantly "middle-class and peacefully oriented," but some members of the group had thrown firecrackers and bottles at police on several occasions.   

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