German police on Wednesday made progress clearing an anti-coal activist camp in an abandoned city that has become emblematic of the country’s fight to wean itself off fossil fuels amid an energy crisis.
Up to 2,000, around 200 anti-coal activists remain in the western German village of Luetzerath, which has been slated for demolition to allow for the expansion of the neighboring Garzweiler coal mine.
Hundreds of police tightened a perimeter around the protest camp before sunrise to prevent anyone from entering.
They moved there at 8am (0700 GMT) to the sound of protesters’ alarms, warning that the next stage of the forced evacuation had begun.
“They took the first aid kit out of the camp by force,” activist spokeswoman Mara Sauer told AFP. “Only a few were able to remain hidden.”
Wrapped in emergency blankets to ward off the cold, some of those who remained clung to trees and other structures built well away from the police.
READ ALSO: Germany does not dismantle wind farms to expand coal mines
Others have climbed to the top of abandoned buildings and barns, where they use loudspeakers to direct anti-police chants along with songs of encouragement for their fellow activists.
– The cleaning operation can take weeks –
Despite a police tweet urging protesters to “cease and desist from throwing Molotov cocktails,” the activists’ resistance has been largely peaceful, with journalists and witnesses on the ground reporting only minor scuffles.
Erle, a student in her 20s, told AFP she had not seen any violence from the protesters or the police, many of whom appear to be her own age.
ALSO READ: Germany to cap energy prices from early 2023 – govt
“Everything happened calmly, we were singing carols, then one of my colleagues was picked up and I was thrown with him,” he said.
The police have promised that those arrested will not be arrested, but will be removed from the camp and prevented from returning.
A police press spokesman said on Wednesday that the action “could go on for several weeks” with another demonstration planned for Saturday.
RWE, the energy company that owns the neighboring mine, tweeted on Wednesday that the expansion of the site was necessary because of Germany’s energy crisis, triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Luetzerath coal is needed … during the energy crisis and therefore less gas is used in electricity generation,” the company wrote, saying the demolition passed an independent review.
Despite turning to coal again to ease pressure on gas plants as the country weans itself from Russian power, Germany says it is not wavering on its goal to phase out coal power by 2030 .
ALSO READ: Germany raises gas alert level after Russia cuts supply