Anti-coal activists resist as German police clear protest camp

German police pressed ahead Wednesday with clearing a camp of anti-coal activists in an abandoned town which has become emblematic of the country's struggle to transition away from fossil fuels amid an energy crisis.

Once numbering as many as 2,000, around 200 anti-coal activists remain in the western German village of Luetzerath, which has been slated for demolition to enable the expansion of the neighbouring Garzweiler coal mine.

Hundreds of police tightened a perimeter around the protest camp before sunrise to prevent anyone from entering.

They moved in at 8 am (0700 GMT) to the sound of alarms set off by the demonstrators, which warned that the next stage of the forced evacuation had begun.

"They took the first aid team out of the camp by force," Mara Sauer, a spokesperson for the activists, told AFP. "Only some were able to stay in hiding."

Draped in emergency blankets to stave off the cold, some of those remaining clung to trees and other built structures high up away from the police.

Others have climbed to the top of abandoned buildings and barns, where they use loudspeakers to lead chants against the police along with songs of encouragement for their fellow activists.

- Clearing operation may last weeks -

Despite a tweet from police urging the protesters to "cease and desist 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 early 20s, told AFP she has not seen any violence from protesters or the police, many of whom seem to be the same age as her.

"Everything happened calmly, we were singing carols, then one of my comrades was picked up and I was pulled with him," she said.

Police have promised those detained will not be arrested but will be removed from the camp and prevented from returning.

A police press spokesperson said on Wednesday the action "could last several weeks" with another demonstration planned for Saturday.

RWE, the energy company which owns the neighbouring mine, tweeted on Wednesday the expansion of the site was necessary due to Germany's energy crisis, triggered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The "Luetzerath coal is needed... during the energy crisis and thus use less gas in electricity generation" the company wrote, saying the demolition passed an independent review.

Despite again resorting to coal to ease the pressure on gas-powered plants as the country has weaned itself off Russian energy, Germany says it is not wavering from its aim of exiting coal power in 2030.

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