BERLIN — Firefighters pumped fresh air into a makeshift tunnel Saturday beneath an ancient German forest that environmentalists are trying to stop from being chopped down for a coal mine, while protesters nearby engaged in a standoff with police.
Aachen police said at least one person was believed to be holed up underground, and authorities ordered journalists out of the area while they investigated the tunnel system beneath Hambach forest, west of Cologne.
Police spokesman Wolfgang Roethgens said officers earlier removed four protesters who had chained themselves to a facility at the Niederaussem coal-fired power station that is supplied by the nearby lignite strip mine, which is being expanded by utility company RWE. Hundreds of protesters tried to enter the forest but were blocked by police.
Police entered the forest earlier in the week to remove protesters who have been living in the forest for months in an effort to stop the cutting down of the woodland, which is believed to be up to 12,000 years old. By Saturday, officers had cleared 13 of about 50 treehouses in the forest.
Environmental groups argue that Hambach forest should be spared while Germany mulls ending the extraction and burning of coal as part of the country's effort to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases.
News weekly Der Spiegel reported Saturday that a government-appointed commission examining options for the future of Germany's coal industry is discussing a phase-out of the fossil fuel by 2038.
Environmental groups planned to plant saplings between the forest and the mine Sunday.