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Wednesday July 17th, 2019 7:02AM

German forest standoff: Police to clear protester tree homes

By The Associated Press
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KERPEN, Germany (AP) — Police in full riot gear cleared a blockade Thursday as authorities prepared to move in and remove tree houses built by activists in an ancient forest in western Germany slated to be cleared next month to allow for coal strip mining.

Hundreds of police were on hand with water canon trucks and heavy machinery as preparations began to remove the treehouses occupied by environmentalists trying to stop the logging in the 12,000-year-old forest near the town of Kerpen, southwest of Cologne.

Police used megaphones early in the morning to warn activists to leave some 60 cobbled-together dwellings in the forest canopy, including platforms built on tall wooden tripods, or face being forcibly removed. It was not immediately clear how many protesters occupied the tree houses but organizers said they had no plans to come down.

Activists rejected as "ridiculous" local authorities' contention the homes constituted a fire hazard.

"The destruction of the Hambach forest is intolerable," activist Jan Puetz told the dpa news agency, saying they planned "actions of mass civil disobedience."

"Through this form of protest we are taking our future into our own hands," he said.

Power company RWE wants to start cutting down half the forest next month to expand a lignite strip mine.

The plans have enraged environmentalists, who want Germany to stop extracting and burning coal. Some have been camping in the forest for years in protest.

Last week, hundreds of police entered the forest to protect workers from RWE who had been sent in to remove obstacles from the floor of the forest, and to search for dangerous objects or potential barricades.

Greenpeace spokeswoman Gesche Juergens appealed to Chancellor Angela Merkel to step in, saying expanding the coal mine was counter to her plans to reduce the country's reliance on fossil fuels, and that the removal of the protesters could jeopardize talks between the government, environmental groups and others.

"Merkel must now allow a possible compromise in the coal question to be hindered by further escalation," Juergens said.

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