Germany’s RWE calls for end to protest showdown over coal mine expansion

BERLIN, Jan 11 (Reuters) – German energy firm RWE (RWEG.DE) said it would start demolishing a former settlement on Wednesday as part of plans to expand an opencast lignite mine and urged demonstrators to end a sit-in protest that has highlighted tensions over climate policy.

The demonstrators, many wearing masks or balaclavas, have been protesting against the Garzweiler mine in the abandoned village of Luetzerath in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

They have formed human chains, staged sit-in protests and occupied deserted buildings in Luetzerath which will be razed to make way for the mine’s expansion. Some dug themselves into holes in the ground while others hung suspended from wooden tripods.

“Today, RWE Power will start to demolish the former settlement of Luetzerath,” the company said in a statement.

The protest follows a regional court decision on Monday that upheld an earlier ruling to vacate the village whose land and houses now belong to RWE.

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

“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,” it added.

The protests highlight growing tensions over Berlin’s climate policy, which environmentalists say took a back seat during the energy crisis that hit Europe last year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, forcing a return to dirtier fuels.

It is particularly sensitive for the Greens party, now back in power as part of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition government after 16 years in opposition between 2005-2021.

The fallout of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted Scholz’s government to change course on previous policies.

Those include firing up mothballed coal power plants and extending 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 extracts around 25 million tonnes of lignite every 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.

Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Tom Hogue and Christopher Cushing

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