Climate activist Greta Thunberg and thousands of demonstrators marched in Germany against the demolition of a village to make way for a coal mine described as “one of the biggest carbon bombs in Europe”.
Crowds of activists demonstrated on Saturday in the western hamlet of Luetzerath, waving banners and chanting as a bass band accompanied them.
Luetzerath, deserted for some time by its original inhabitants, is set to disappear to make way for an extension of the adjacent open-cast coal mine, one of the largest in Europe. It is operated by the energy firm RWE.
Environmentalists say bulldozing the village to expand the Garzweiler mine would result in huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. The government and RWE argue the coal is needed to ensure Germany’s energy security.
The Swedish climate activist Thunberg, 20, marched at the front of the procession as demonstrators converged on the village, showing support for activists occupying it in protest over the coal mine extension.
‘Fighting for climate justice’
Some fought with police who were trying to move the march away from Luetzerath, which is surrounded by fences.
“We’re in 2023 in the middle of a climate crisis, and while destroying a village to expand one of the biggest carbon bombs in Europe should be considered criminal, it is still legal,” said Sara Ayech, who leads the climate campaign at Greenpeace International.
“Fossil fuel companies’ influence is so powerful that the ones considered criminals now are the ones fighting for climate justice,” she said. “It is time to hold fossil fuel companies accountable.”
In an operation launched this week, hundreds of police have been working to remove activists from the hamlet.
But 20 to 40 climate activists were still holed up in the village late on Friday, a spokeswoman for the protest movement said.
Authorities said they were entering the final stages of evacuating the activists. In just a few days, a large part of the protesters’ camp has been cleared by police and its occupants removed.
German media, quoting the police, reported about 470 activists had been removed from the village since the beginning of the evacuation.
Large numbers of protesters, including Thunberg, assembled on Saturday close to the village, which has become a symbol of resistance against fossil fuels.
“Against the evacuation, for an end to coal and climate justice” is the rallying call for the demonstrations.
Police reinforcements came from across the country to participate in the clearing of the village.
Organisers are hoping that tens of thousands of demonstrators will attend while police said they expect about 8,000 people.
Many of the activists in the village have built structures high up in trees while others have climbed to the top of abandoned buildings and barns.
Activists said they have dug a tunnel under the hamlet to complicate the evacuation effort.
The movement has been supported by protests across Germany. On Friday, masked activists set fire to rubbish bins and painted slogans on the offices of the Greens in Berlin.
The party, part of Germany’s ruling coalition with Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats and the liberal Free Democrats, has come under heavy criticism from activists who accuse it of betrayal.
Following the energy crisis set off by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the government has brought old coal power plants back online.
Officials also signed a compromise with RWE that made way for the demolition of Luetzerath but spared five nearby villages.
The energy firm also agreed to stop producing electricity with coal in western Germany by 2030, eight years earlier than previously planned.