50,000 people attended an anti-coal demonstration in Germany

By Elke Silberer and Christoph Driessen, dpa

n estimated 50,000 people attended an anti-coal protest at a German forest on Saturday 6th October, 2018, according to the organizers, after the forest was granted a temporary reprieve from an energy firm’s plans to fell it.

“It is by far the largest demonstration that the Rhine coal mining region has ever seen,” said Dirk Jansen, managing director of the German Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation (BUND), in the western state of North Rhine Westphalia.

Around 20,000 people had originally been expected to attend.

A police spokeswoman did not give an estimate for the number of participants, but said the event was peaceful.

A ban on the protest at Hambach Forest, called by environmental groups including Greenpeace and the BUND, was overturned by a court on Friday.

In a double victory for the environmentalists, another court also ordered energy company RWE, which wants to mine the area for brown coal, to halt its clearance of the forest.

The forest hit headlines in recent weeks as police cleared around 60 tree houses built by protesters, who have been campaigning against RWE’s plans for years.

Several thousand protesters made their way further into the forest during Saturday’s demonstration. The police spokeswoman said the building of any new tree houses will not be permitted.

Elsewhere in the southern city of Munich, another several thousand people protested in solidarity. Alongside the conservation of Hambach Forest, the demonstrators at that protest on Saturday also planned to raise awareness of falling insect populations, animal rights and the protection of green spaces.

The 12,000-year-old, 100-hectare Hambach Forest contains centuries-old trees and is home to several protected species of animals, including a population of Bechstein’s bats.

Ruling on the forest clearance on Friday, the court in Muenster said the legal issues at hand were so complex that they could not be answered at such short notice.

The BUND had argued in its lawsuit that the bats qualified the forest for protection under the European Union’s Habitats Directive.

RWE said it expected to incur substantial financial damages after the court decision, claiming the ban on felling could cost it several hundred million euros per year. A final decision could come as late as the end of 2020, it said.

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