Germany gets tough with climate activists
German police on Wednesday raided homes of climate activists known for their controversial street blockade protests that Chancellor Olaf Scholz has blasted as "completely nuts".
The raids were ordered in an investigation targeting seven people aged 22 to 38 of the Letzte Generation (Last Generation) group, as Germany toughened its stance against their eye-catching action.
Gluing themselves to roads, flinging mash at masterpieces and blocking airstrips -- the activists have in recent months split public opinion with their protests to push authorities to do more to combat climate change.
Wednesday's raids were part of a probe over suspicions that the activists were "forming or supporting a criminal organisation", said a joint statement by Bavaria's police and prosecutors.
Fifteen properties were searched, two bank accounts seized and an asset freeze ordered.
The suspects are accused of "organising a fundraising campaign to finance further criminal acts" for the group via its website.
At least 1.4 million euros ($1.5 million) had been collected, said the authorities, adding that "these funds were, according to current information, mostly used for the commission of further criminal acts by the association".
The authorities did not specify the "criminal acts" to which they were referring but said two of the suspects are alleged to have tried to sabotage an oil pipeline between Trieste, Italy, and Ingolstadt, Germany, deemed "critical infrastructure" in Bavaria.
The group's spokeswoman Carla Hinrichs, described the moment when she found police storming her apartment and an officer "wearing a security vest pointing a weapon at her".
"I'm afraid that this state is sending its civil servants with weapons drawn to storm my apartment. But I'm even more afraid that it is letting us speed into this (climate) disaster without doing anything," she said in a clip on Twitter.
The group vowed to continue with its tactics, announcing protests in several cities later Wednesday.
- 'Irritate people' -
Many climate activists have been put before the courts in recent weeks over their traffic blockade actions.
Most have received fines for disrupting traffic or obstructing police but some courts have also begun to hand down jail time.
Scholz and his coalition partners including the Greens have expressed frustration at the activists.
Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck of the Greens has said the street blockades were "not a helpful contribution to climate protection" because they don't win consensus but they "irritate people".
Angry motorists shouting at the glued activists or dragging them off the streets have been a feature of many of the blockades.
Police across the country have registered more than 1,600 criminal offences -- most involving Letzte Generation street blockades -- by climate protesters over the last year, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told the Funke media group.
"I don't have the slightest understanding of these actions and the crimes committed," said Faeser.
- 'A warning' -
The activists argue that their protests are vital in the face of inadequate action taken by the government and society to prevent catastrophic global warming.
"We, who are alive today, are the last who can still hinder the irreversible collapse of the climate," the group said.
The UN has warned that the world will cross the key 1.5 degree Celsius global warming limit in about a decade, with devastating impacts of climate change in turn hitting faster than expected.
Berlin has relatively ambitious climate targets, including plans for carbon neutrality by 2045. It is also aiming to produce 80 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
But Letzte Generation believes those goals are not ambitious enough to stop Earth from tipping into irreversible warming.
Besides Letzte Generation, Germany has seen a host of other climate activist groups carrying out audacious protests.
Another group, Scientist Rebellion, hurled cake at Volkswagen bosses at the German carmaker's annual shareholders' meeting earlier this month.
Across Europe, dramatic action has also become more frequent.
On Tuesday, protesters disrupted air traffic at Geneva airport while dozens of activists blocked a business jet convention nearby.
On Sunday, activists turned Rome's famous Trevi Fountain black, saying deadly floods in the country's northeast were "a warning".