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Climate activist Greta Thunberg freed after being detained by German police at coal mine protest

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Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was released by German police on Tuesday night after being detained earlier in the day at a protest against coal mine expansion in the western village of Lützerath, police confirmed to CNN on Wednesday.

”Thunberg was only briefly detained. Once (Thunberg’s) identity was established, she was free to go,” Max Wilmes, spokesman for the police in the city of Aachen, told CNN.

“Due to his name recognition, the police expedited the identification process,” Wilmes said. He said she then waited for other protesters to be released.

Thunberg quickly resumed campaigning on Wednesday, tweeting: “Climate protection is not a crime.”

“Yesterday I was part of a group that peacefully protested against the expansion of a coal mine in Germany,” said the activist, adding: “We were reprimanded by the police and then detained, but we were released later that night.”

Thunberg was part of a large group of protesters who broke through a police barrier and entered a coal mine, which authorities were unable to fully secure, police spokesman Christof Hüls told CNN on Tuesday. This is the second time Thunberg has been detained at the scene, he said.

Climate activists have long protested the expansion of this coal mine, which cuts through the village of Lützerath.

Since last Wednesday, German police have removed hundreds of activists from Lützerath. Some have been in place for more than two years, CNN previously reported, occupying the homes abandoned by former residents after they were evicted, mostly in 2017, to make way for the lignite coal mine.

The German government reached an agreement with the energy company RWE, which owns the mine, in 2022, allowing it to expand to Lützerath in exchange for an end to coal use by 2030 – instead of 2038.

Once the eviction is complete, RWE plans to build a 1.5 km (0.93 mile) perimeter fence around the village, isolating its buildings, streets and sewers before they are demolished.

Thunberg tweeted on Friday that she was in Lützerath to protest the expansion. On Saturday, she joined thousands of people who demonstrated against the village’s demolition.

Addressing activists at the protest, Thunberg said: “Carbon is still in the ground. And as long as carbon is in the ground, this fight is not over.”

Hüls said Thunberg “surprisingly” returned to protest on Sunday, when she was first arrested, and again on Tuesday.

The coal mine expansion is significant for climate activists. They argue that continuing to burn coal for energy will increase planet-warming emissions and violate the ambition of the Paris Climate Agreement to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Brown coal is the most polluting type of coal, which in turn is the most polluting fossil fuel.

“We need to stop the current destruction of our planet and sacrifice people to benefit short-term economic growth and corporate greed,” said Thunberg.

Clashes between activists and police have taken place this month, and photos from the protests have shown police using riot gear to remove protesters.

More than 1,000 police officers were involved in the eviction operation. Most of the buildings in the village have since been cleared and replaced with excavation machines.

RWE and Germany’s Green Party – a member of the country’s ruling coalition – reject the claim that the mine expansion will increase overall emissions, saying the European limits mean the extra carbon emissions can be offset. But several climate reports have made clear the need to accelerate clean energy and transition away from fossil fuels. Recent studies also suggest that Germany may not even need the extra coal. An August report by the international research platform Coal Transitions found that even if coal plants operate at very high capacity through the end of this decade, they already have more coal available than is needed from existing supplies.