Police have arrested 34 activists who had hidden themselves in trees and tunnels in a western German forest in an attempt to stop an energy company from clearing the woods so it can start mining coal, authorities said late Saturday.
Nine of those removed suffered injuries during the operation in Hambacher Forest. Additionally, 62 people were ordered to leave the area, according to a police spokesperson from the nearby city of Aachen.
Early Sunday, two activists who had refused to leave a tunnel beneath the trees were also convinced to come out, the fire department said.
Rescue workers had discovered the protesters on Saturday in a tunnel at least 5 meters below ground using telescopic cameras, a spokesman told dpa. Fresh air was pumped into the shaft to counteract declining air quality as the fire crews tried to get them out. As dawn broke on Sunday, rescue workers said they had sighted the tunnelers. But work was slow because rescuers wanted to secure the tunnel before venturing too far in. Other protesters were also made it hard to access the tunnel. Police began clearing the camp on Thursday and have so far destroyed 13 of the approximately 50 dwellings built by the protesters on the site. Separately on Saturday, about 300 protesters gathered on a nearby street to demonstrate, though their number had dwindled to 15 as Sunday started.
RWE, the German energy company that owns the area, wants to cut down large swathes of Hambacher Forest, located to the southeast of the colossal Hambach opencast mine in the state of North Rhine Westphalia, to mine brown coal. The company says doing so is unavoidable to guarantee production in coal-powered energy plants.
But the woods contain centuries-old beech and oak trees and are home to a protected species of bat. As such, environmental activists occupied the forest six years ago, according to the Hambi Bleibt ("Hambis stays!") campaign group, building treehouses and tunnels.
Mine rescue experts were consulted to determine whether the tunnels were dangerous and declared them to be at risk of collapse.