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Environmental activists shut down coal port

Australian climate change activists yesterday closed down operations at the world's largest coal port after entering its three terminals and attaching themselves to loaders.

The action by climate change group Rising Tide in Newcastle stopped operations at all three terminals operated by Port Waratah Coal Services, which normally run continuously, a company spokesman said.

Asked if all operations at the facility had been halted due to the action, a company spokesman told Reuters: "Yes, that is correct. All operations have temporarily stopped."

Rising Tide said about 50 people in total were involved in the protest, some entering before dawn on Sunday morning, abseiling down machinery and attaching themselves to loaders. Others demonstrated with banners.

Spokeswoman Annika Dean said nine protesters attached themselves to infrastructure, calling it an "emergency" action to highlight climate change, which she blamed for recent fires in Russia and floods in Pakistan.

"We have stopped all operations in the coal port," Dean said.

"These weather events are consistent with the scientific predictions for climate change. We feel like Australia's coal exports are contributing to this problem."

It is the latest in a series of actions at the facility by the locally based group which have had limited success in disrupting commercial operations. Dean said she believed it was the first time the group had managed to halt all operations at the port.

Rising Tide said its protesters had received training from climbers.

New South Wales state police confirmed that protesters had entered the facilities and tied themselves to machinery. A police spokeswoman said an operation including negotiations with the protesters was underway.

Newcastle, just north of Sydney, is the world's largest coal export port and a major earner of foreign exchange for Australia. Port Waratah Coal Services is partly owned by mining giants Xstrata, and Rio Tinto, through its Coal and Allied subsidiary.

A spokesman for Port Waratah Coal Services said it would be several days before losses resulting from the action could be assessed.

Coal is one of Australia's leading exports but the industry is opposed by the country's influential climate change lobby.