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Police clear forest camp for coal excavation

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Police clear forest camp for coal excavation
Photo: DPA
11:43 CET+01:00
Police worked through the night into Wednesday to evict a camp of environmental activists occupying a forest in western Germany due to be cut down to make way for brown coal excavation.

Around 500 police officers moved into the elaborate tree-house village in Hambach forest near Kerpen, North Rhine-Westphalia at dawn on Tuesday to forcibly remove activists protesting plans by German energy giant RWE to excavate brown coal in the area.

While the operation stayed largely peaceful, police told the Rheinische Post newspaper on Wednesday, the protesters put up considerable passive resistance.

Police were still removing activists from the camp on Wednesday morning after two had chained themselves to a tree 20 metres above ground and another buried himself deep underground.

Six special commando police officers and a doctor abseiled onto the roof of one tree house in which two activists had put up their last stand early on Wednesday.

Dismantling the tree-house around them, police succeeded after several hours in taking the demonstrators into custody, wrote the paper. The delicate task of digging out the demonstrator from his underground hidey-hole will take some time, said police.

Working through the night, the unit used cranes to demolish the activists' improvised treetop eco-village, in which several structures were linked by rope bridges.

In all, five of the 22 activists arrested in the operation remained in police custody on Wednesday and face 100 charges of damage, trespassing, slander, public disturbance, robbery and coercion, wrote the paper.

RWE are waiting to take control of the forest to excavate brown coal, or lignite, a controversial carbon-rich substance currently responsible for generating 24.6 percent of Germany's energy supply in steam power plants.

Critics of the German government's energy policy say it is unacceptable to raise C02 emissions by relying on coal as the country moves to switch off all its nuclear power plants by 2022.

In order to extract the brown coal from the ground this winter, RWE will cut down 3,900 hectares of the 12,000-year-old oak and hornbeam Hambach forest, leaving just 300 hectares in tact.

"Now we want to excavate there and we have to prepare the area for that as soon as possible," RWE spokesman Manfred Lang told Rheinische Post. "For conservation purposes we are only allowed to dig during the winter months - that's why we are in such a hurry."

The protesters, who have been occupying the forest since April, have received support from members of the Green party, the Left party and Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND).

Solidarity protests against brown coal excavation have been planned in Cologne, Essen, Münster Berlin and Hamburg.

The Local/jlb

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