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Greta Thunberg carried off, briefly detained by police at German coal mine protest

Swedish climate activist supporting protests against demolition of village, in symbol of resistance against fossil fuels

Police officers carry Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (C) out of a group of demonstrators and activists in Erkelenz, western Germany, on January 17, 2023, as demonstrations continue against a coal mine extension in the nearby village of Luetzerath (Photo by Christoph Reichwein / dpa / AFP)
Police officers carry Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (C) out of a group of demonstrators and activists in Erkelenz, western Germany, on January 17, 2023, as demonstrations continue against a coal mine extension in the nearby village of Luetzerath (Photo by Christoph Reichwein / dpa / AFP)

BERLIN — Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was hauled away and briefly detained on Tuesday during a protest near a German village being razed to make way for a coal mine expansion, police said.

Thunberg has been in Germany for several days to support protests against the demolition of Luetzerath, which have become a symbol of resistance against fossil fuels.

Images showed the activist, smiling and dressed in black, being picked up by police officers wearing helmets and then escorted to a waiting bus.

Police said a group of activists were detained after having “broken away from the demonstration,” and run towards the edge of the open-cast coal mine.

They were taken away from the “danger zone” by bus, their identities were checked, and then they were released, a spokesman said.

The process took “several hours” as there were a large number of protesters, he said, without giving a precise figure.

Police officers carry Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (C) out of a group of demonstrators and activists in Erkelenz, western Germany, on January 17, 2023, as demonstrations continue against a coal mine extension in the nearby village of Luetzerath (Photo by Federico Gambarini / dpa / AFP)

The activists were not formally arrested, police said.

On Saturday, Thunberg joined thousands of demonstrators in a large-scale protest against the demolition of the hamlet, marching at the front of a procession.

She said it was “shameful” that the German government was “making deals and compromises with fossil fuel companies.”

On Monday, the last two climate activists occupying the hamlet to stop it from being razed left their underground hideout, marking the end of the police operation to evict them.

Around 300 activists had occupied the village, staking out emptied buildings and constructing positions in the trees, to try to prevent the expansion of the adjacent Garzweiler open-cast coal mine.

‘Stop coal’

Luetzerath has been deserted for some time by its original inhabitants, as plans move forward to expand the open-cast mine, one of the largest in Europe, operated by energy firm RWE.

Police launched an operation last week to clear the protest camp, making quicker progress than expected, and by Sunday had succeeded in removing all but the last two, holed up in a self-built tunnel under the settlement.

Policemen stand next to environmentalists blocking the railway tracks used to transport lignite to German energy supplier RWE’s coal fired power plant in Neurath, western Germany, as demonstrations continue against a coal mine extension in the nearby village of Luetzerath, on January 17, 2023 (Photo by INA FASSBENDER / AFP)

The end of the operation came despite Saturday’s demonstration, which was attended by thousands, with protesters holding banners with slogans including “Stop coal” and “Luetzerath lives!”

Protest planners accused authorities of “violence” after clashes between police and participants, which resulted in injuries on both sides.

RWE has permission for the expansion of the mine under a compromise agreement signed with the government, led by Social Democrat Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Under the deal agreed upon in October, Luetzerath will be demolished, while five neighboring villages are spared.

Policemen and activists are seen during a demonstration in Keyenberg, western Germany, as protests continue against a coal mine extension in the nearby village of Luetzerath, on January 17, 2023 (INA FASSBENDER / AFP)

At the same time, RWE also agreed to stop producing electricity with coal in western Germany by 2030 — eight years earlier than planned.

With Russia’s gas supply cut in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, Germany has fallen back on coal, firing up mothballed power plants.

The extension to the mine is deemed necessary to secure Germany’s future energy supply.

But activists argue extracting the coal will mean Germany misses targets under the key Paris climate agreements.

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