Greta Thunberg leads thousands of protesters demonstrating against German coal mine expansion

Around 6,000 demonstrators, including Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg, have gathered in western Germany to protest the clearance of a village to make way for the expansion of a controversial coal mine.

Protesters marched through Keyenberg, close to the demolished village of Luetzerath, chanting: "Every village stays" and "You are not alone". Police said some activists attempted to break through barriers around the Garzweiler coal mine, with a group entering the mine.

Thunberg told demonstrators: "This is a betrayal of present and future generations... Germany is one of the biggest polluters in the world and needs to be held accountable." She then joined the march with a cardboard sign, saying "Luetzi stays" in German, using a shortened name of the village.

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As the protesters neared Luetzerath they were confronted by police in riot gear, some of whom used batons to push them back. Police said they had to use force to stop some people from nearing the danger zone at the edge of the excavation area.

Protesters had been occupying Luetzerath until a massive police operation to evict them began this week, following a court decision allowing the expansion of the mine.

On Wednesday morning, more than 1,000 officers in riot gear started clearing barricades which protesters had been preparing for weeks, and on Thursday one of the main buildings in the village was cleared by police, with bulldozers swiftly moving in to cut down trees and remove debris.

In the first three days of the operation, police said about 470 people had left the site, 320 of them voluntarily. On Friday afternoon they said there were no longer any activists in the remaining buildings or on their roofs.

German news agency dpa reported on Saturday that there were 15 "structures" such as tree houses that were yet to be tackled, as well a tunnel in which two people were believed to still be holed up.

The area around the village in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia is rich with lignite coal, a low-grade version of the fuel which is especially polluting because more of it has to be burned to produce units of power. Lignite is responsible for around a fifth of Germany's carbon emissions.

Luetzerath has become a thorn in the side of the climate efforts of the German government, which includes the Greens as a coalition partner. Activists say expanding the mine will cause higher greenhouse gas emissions, while the government stresses the need to ensure Germany's energy security, especially in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

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