Germany fells tree after protesters cleared

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Workmen fell a riverside beech tree near Dresden after police evict protesters who clung to its branches for five weeks in a protest at a new bridge.

15th January 2008

Dresden (dpa) - Conservationists, who have been backed by UN cultural body UNESCO, charge the steel bridge would mar a World Heritage Site.

About 250 protesters gathered after daybreak to jeer and block a tram line as the standing tree was dismantled branch by branch at the site of the planned Waldschloesschen Bridge.

The river crossing is to cut through a 20-kilometre-long ensemble of palaces and gardens on the banks of the Elbe River.

Dresden police spokesman Thomas Herbst said one officer was bitten by a female protester. A total of 39 people were arrested, but later released.

Police arrived without warning just after midnight and officers wearing ski masks spent five hours removing eight nimble protesters, who dodged between wooden tree huts built in the boughs of the beech, and three more demonstrators in a nearby linden tree.

Officers had to cut free two men who had chained themselves to high branches. A saxophone player added to the bizarreness of the night time struggle in the 12-metre-tall tree.

Herbst warned future protesters, "We will act when the law requires."

The protest group Robin Wood accused the police of being "rough." The group began their sit-in in the beech's branches on December 12 to save the tree as well as protest the state of Saxony's bridge project.

They were supported over the weeks by sympathisers who held out against the cold sitting at the base of the tree, which is estimated to be 200 years old.

Reactions to their protest had been mixed. Some residents brought them food and blankets to shiver out below-freezing temperatures. But at New Year, some youths shot fireworks at them.

Public opinion about the bridge 4 kilometres east of the city centre is also mixed. A majority of residents voted to build the structure to end traffic detours, but others said it would mar a picture-postcard view.

UNESCO has threatened to retract Dresden's World Heritage designation if the bridge design is not altered.

Construction officials said the tree was cut apart standing, not toppled, because it was too near a busy road and homes.

The capital and surroundings of the onetime kingdom of Saxony are crammed with architectural and artistic riches accumulated over centuries.

City highlights include the Zwinger Palace, Semper Opera and Frauenkirche, which was re-consecrated in 2005 after being destroyed in the 1945 Allied firebombing of the city near the close of World War II.


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