German police said on Monday that they expected a “difficult” and “dangerous” task when they begin to remove thousands of anti-coal activists near an open cut mine in two days.
Luetzerath, a village in North Rhine-Westphalia state, was once home to around 100 people but has been abandoned over the years as uncertainty hung over its planned evacuation for the expansion of the neighbouring coal mine Garzweiler.
Instead, around 2,000 activists have set up camp to prevent the village from becoming probably the last in Germany to be dug up for coal as Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government has agreed to stop using the fossil fuel by 2030.
German police have made repeated warnings for the activists to leave, to no avail.
They are planning a final information meeting on Tuesday before their operation begins to evict the activists on Wednesday.
“(W)e will proceed from the day after tomorrow (Wednesday) or the days following the start of the operation,” said Dirk Weinspach, head of the police in the district of Aachen.
Police said they expected a “demanding mission”, due to the conditions and the risk of violence, with Weinspach saying the protests were “initially peaceful, (but) took a different turn.”
Weinspach said that a demonstration on Sunday ended with stones being thrown at police.
Clearing the camp without injuring any of the protesters would be a challenging operation, he added.
“The operational area is very large with difficult topography (and is) on the edge of an open pit mine, with particular dangers,” he said.
The protesters have also built huts six metres (19 feet) aboveground from where they are perched, complicating the police operation.
“You have to get to people who are high up, without putting them in danger. If you cut a rope, the construction and whoever is on it can fall,” said Weinspach.
Environmental groups had hoped that Luezerath would be spared the excavators after Scholz’s coalition including the Green party took office in December 2021 with a vow to phase out coal usage.
But Russia’s war in Ukraine has sparked an energy crisis, forcing Berlin to restart mothballed coal plants to secure Germany’s power needs.
In the scramble for energy sources as Russia dwindled its supply, Scholz’s government granted permission to German energy company RWE to expand the mine neighbouring Luezerath.
As part of the agreement five other villages will be spared and RWE has agreed to bring forward the end date for coal mining in the region by eight years to 2030.
Activists have criticised Scholz’s government for having betrayed its commitments and for failing to do enough to meet the Paris climate goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
But the German government on Monday insisted that “Luetzerath coal is needed now to guarantee the security of the energy supply” due to the power crisis.
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