German police finish clearing site of violent anti-coal protests

Police on Sunday said they had almost finished clearing climate activists from a German village being razed to make way for a coal mine expansion, as both sides accused each other of violence.

In an operation that began on Wednesday, hundreds of police have removed around 300 activists from the doomed hamlet of Luetzerath in western Germany.

The clear-out had initially been expected to last weeks, but police said on Sunday only two activists remained in the village, holed up in an underground tunnel.

"There are no further activists in the Luetzerath area," they said.

The site, which has become a symbol of resistance to fossil fuels, had attracted thousands of protesters on Saturday, including Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Organisers said that 35,000 protesters demonstrated, while police put the figure at 15,000.

Protest organisers reported that dozens had been injured in clashes with police.

Indigo Drau, a spokeswoman for the organisers, said the police had gone in with "pure violence" while trying to disperse the demo.

Officers had "unrestrainedly" beaten protesters, often on the head, the organisers said.

At least 20 activists had been taken to hospital for treatment, said Birte Schramm, a medic with the group. Some of them had been beaten on the head and in the stomach by police, she said.

- Stone-throwing and graffiti -

The police said around 70 officers had been injured since Wednesday, many of them in Saturday's clashes.

"We have been targeted by projectiles, with stones, mud, fireworks," police spokesman Andreas Mueller told AFP.

"This does not enter anymore into the frame of a peaceful demonstration," he said.

Several police vehicles were damaged, including by stone-throwing and graffiti, and a large number of tyres on police vehicles were slashed, the police said.

Twelve people were arrested or taken into custody.

Investigations have been launched in around 150 cases, police said, including for resisting police officers, property damage and breach of the peace.

Many of the activists had been hiding in tree houses and on the roofs of buildings in a bid to complicate the evacuation effort.

Police said they had cleared 35 "tree structures" as well as around 30 wooden constructions.

The situation on the ground on Sunday was "very calm", they said.

Luetzerath -- deserted for some time by its former inhabitants -- is being demolished to make way for the extension of the adjacent open-cast coal mine.

The mine, already one of the largest in Europe, is operated by energy firm RWE.

The expansion is going ahead despite plans to phase out coal by 2030, with the government blaming the energy crisis caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The evacuation operation at Luetzerath is politically sensitive for the coalition government of Social Democrat Chancellor Olaf Scholz. He governs with the Greens who stand accused by the activists of having betrayed their commitments.

The government considers the expansion of the mine to be necessary for Germany's energy security to compensate for the interruption of Russian gas supplies.

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