Thousands of people demonstrated in heavy rain on Saturday against the removal and destruction of a village in western Germany that is set to make way for a coal mine expansion.
Clashes took place with the police as some demonstrators tried to reach the edge of the mine and the village itself.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg joined protesters as they protested the purge of Lützerath, marching through the nearby village of Kinberg and muddy fields. The demonstrators chanted “Every village remains” and “You are not alone”.
The organizers said that about 35,000 people took part, while the police put the figure at 15,000. On the sidelines of the protest, police said people broke through their barricades and some entered the Garzweiler coal mine.
Some of those who tried to reach the edge of the mine were pushed back. Outside Luzerat itself, which is now fenced off, police used water cannons and batons, German news agency dpa reported, against hundreds of people who made it this far. It calmed down after dark.
Some protesters have complained about what they say is undue police force and the scale of the police response this week. Meanwhile, police said some protesters threw fireworks at officers and destroyed patrol cars.
Thunberg said the fate of Luzerat and the mine’s expansion mattered far beyond Germany.
In the global fight against climate change, “what everyone does matters,” she told the Associated Press shortly before the protest. “And if one of the biggest polluters, like Germany, and one of the biggest historical emitters of carbon dioxide does something like this, of course it affects everyone in one way or another – especially those who bear the brunt of the climate crisis.”
When the demonstration took place, the Lutzerat purge was well advanced.
The evacuation of climate activists holed up in the village began on Wednesday morning. In the first three days of the operation, police said about 470 people left the site, 320 of them voluntarily.
On Friday afternoon, they said there were no more activists in or on the roofs of the remaining buildings. They said on Saturday they still had to treat 15 “structures” like tree houses, and were trying to get into a tunnel where two people are believed to be holed up, dpa reported. Work to demolish the buildings was already under way.
Luetzerath has become a popular cause for critics of Germany’s climate efforts.
Environmentalists say demolishing the village to expand the Garzweiler mine would result in massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. The government and utility company RWE say coal is essential to Germany’s energy security.
The regional and national governments, both of which include the environmental Green Party, reached an agreement with RWE last year that would allow it to destroy the abandoned village in return for ending coal use by 2030, rather than 2038.
Some speakers at Saturday’s rally attacked the Greens, whose leaders argue the deal meets many of the environmentalists’ demands and saved five more villages from demolition.
“It is very strange to see the German government, including the Green Party, making deals and settlements with companies like RWE, with fossil fuel companies, when they should instead be held responsible for all the damage and destruction they have caused,” Thunberg said.
“My message to the German government is that they must immediately stop what is happening here, stop the devastation, and ensure climate justice for all.”