Last anti-coal activists leave German village, ending police eviction

The last two climate activists holed up in a self-built tunnel to prevent the extension of a coal mine in western Germany left their hideout on Monday, marking the end of a police operation to clear the site.

Around 300 activists had occupied Luetzerath, to the west of Cologne, to protest the extension of the adjacent open-cast Garzweiler coal mine that would engulf the settlement.

The hamlet -- already abandoned by its residents over the years -- has become a symbol of resistance against fossil fuels.

Police launched an operation on Wednesday to clear the protest camp, making quicker progress than expected, and by Sunday had all but cleared the site.

The end of the operation came despite a huge demonstration held on Saturday, attended by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Police said 15,000 people turned up, but organisers, who put attendance at 35,000, accused them of "violence" during the protest on Saturday, at which both police and demonstrators were injured.

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

The extension is deemed necessary to secure Germany's future energy supply, a justification rejected by activists, who argue the coal needs to stay in the ground to hit climate goals.

"It was necessary and of course it is a sin in terms of climate policy and of course we should work towards keeping this sin as short as possible and not constantly prolonging it," said Economy Minister and leading Green politician Robert Habeck.