(CN) — German police on Friday forcefully removed holdouts in a yearslong protest to stop German energy giant RWE from expanding a massive coal mine in western Germany.
The showdown over the enlargement of the Garzweiler lignite mine in North Rhine-Westphalia is exposing Germany's ruling Green party to accusations of hypocrisy and puncturing the country's aura as a leader on climate action.
On Friday, Greta Thunberg, the renowned Swedish climate activist, showed up to join the protests and denounced Germany for allowing the coal mine to expand. She was expected to take part in a large demonstration Saturday.
She said it was “horrible to see what's happening here,” as reported by Deutsche Welle, a German public broadcaster.
“We expect to show what people power looks like, what democracy looks like. When governments and corporations are acting like this, destroying the environment, putting countless people at risk, the people step up,” she said.
RWE plans to demolish the village of Lutzerath in order to mine large coal deposits sitting under the village. The village's 900 residents were forced relocate to make way for the mine. A local court's eviction order went into effect on Tuesday. Other villages were destroyed previously to make way for the gigantic mine.
To prevent the expansion, protesters entrenched themselves on the tops of houses, in wooden huts, in tree houses and on zip lines in and around the village. The occupation of Lutzerath by protesters began about two and a half years ago.
On Friday, German authorities said they had cleared most of the protesters, though some remained atop at least one roof and two were reportedly inside a tunnel some 13 feet underground. There were reports of arrests and some injuries.
The protests and police actions were shown on live online streams. Video images showed armored police using force to remove protesters at times.
Hundreds of police were bused in from around Germany to end the protest. The number of protesters grew to more than 700 as people from around Germany and beyond its borders flocked in.
Elsewhere in Germany, other demonstrations took place with activists chaining themselves to the front gates of RWE's headquarters in Essen and a group of masked anti-mine protesters in Berlin early Friday reportedly smashing store windows, lighting garbage containers on fire and launching pyrotechnics at a police station.
The mine's expansion has been backed by the Green party, which is in a ruling government coalition with the Social Democrats and Free Democrats after doing very well in September 2021 federal elections.
Robert Habeck, a Green party leader and vice chancellor overseeing green economics, argues that expanding coal mining was forced on Germany because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the decision to cut Germany off from Russian energy supplies.
“Putin’s war of aggression is forcing us to temporarily make greater use of lignite so that we save gas in electricity generation,” he said. “This is painful but necessary in view of the shortage of gas.”
Greens are also in a governing coalition in the North Rhine-Westphalia state and a Green official, Dirk Weinspach, is the head of the Aachen police who are leading the charge to remove protesters from Lutzerath.
During the Berlin protests on Friday, the Green party's headquarters and another Green party office were reportedly smeared with paint and slogans. On Thursday, the party's office in Dusseldorf was the scene of protests too after demonstrators occupied the building.
The burning of coal is a major source of carbon emissions. RWE is expected to gain access to some 280 tons of coal under Lutzerath.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.