German police disperse protesters in showdown over coal mine expansion

Police began removing climate protesters from an abandoned village on Wednesday in a showdown over the expansion of an opencast lignite mine that has highlighted tensions around Germany's climate policy during a Russia-induced energy crisis.

The demonstrators pulled a couple of strategies out of their protest toolbox, such as forming human chains, constructing makeshift barricades out of old containers and chanting.

“We are here, we are loud, because you are stealing our future,” was on the lips of the protesters who gathered in the village of Lutzerath, North Rhine-Wesphalia, Germany, in the perimeter of the Garzweiler mine run by energy firm RWE.

But the protest, according to the police, was far from peaceful as some demonstrators took to hurling Molotov cocktails and stones at law enforcement. Many protestors were wearing masks or balaclavas. On Wednesday morning, RWE said in a statement it would start to dismantle the former settlement of Lutzerath.

RWE is appealing to the squatters to observe the rule of law and to end the illegal occupation of buildings, plants and sites belonging to RWE peacefully,” RWE said. “Nobody should put their own health and life at risk by participating in illegal activity.” The protest unfolds in the wake of a decision made on Monday by a regional court that upheld an earlier ruling to vacate the village whose land and houses now belong to RWE.

Police began disassembling protesters’ barricades on Tuesday while dragging away activists to disperse the demonstration. They urged protesters to avoid violence and exercise restraint, saying that some activists had begun to attack officers in recent days and thrown rocks at them.

The protest is yet another chapter in a series of growing tensions over Berlin's climate policy, which environmentalists say was deprioritised during the energy crisis that hit Europe last year resulting from Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Moscow’s rapacious gas policy that forced a return to dirtier fuels.

To respond to the emerging Russia-induced energy crises, Scholz's government reignited coal power plants and extended the lifespan of nuclear power stations after Russia cut gas deliveries to Europe in an energy standoff that sent prices soaring.

The government has, however, brought forward the date when all brown coal power plants will be shut down in North Rhine-Westphalia, to 2030 from 2038, acceding to a campaign promise from the Greens.

The Garzweiler mine digs out about 25 million tonnes of lignite a year, according to RWE. The company has said it supports both energy transition and a temporary increase in the use of lignite-fired plants to tide Germany through the energy crisis.

Russia’s leverage over German energy policy prompting Berlin to rehash dirtier energy resources is particularly unwieldy for the Greens party, who made a comeback to power as part of Chancellor Olaf Scholz's coalition government after 16 years in the opposition between 2005-2021.