(Adds missing word 'to' in first paragraph)
By Vincenzo Damiani and Giancarlo Navach
BARI/MILAN, March 28 Italian police broke up a
protest by environmentalists trying to prevent the removal of a
grove of olive trees dating back centuries standing in the way
of a $40 billion pipeline to bring Asian gas to Europe.
The trees, including some more than 100 years old, are in
the path of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), the final stage
of the so-called southern gas corridor designed to reduce the
European Union's dependence on Russian energy.
On Monday, a top Italian court gave the go-ahead to start
work on TAP, rejecting appeals by local authorities in the
southern Puglia region who wanted to move the landfall.
On Tuesday, protesters laid down outside the work site to
block the arrival of trucks and tractors, police officials said,
and in the afternoon police dispersed about 50 people, including
the mayors of some of the towns in the area.
Police also broke up a cordon of about 300 protesters.
TAP will bring 10 billion cubic metres of gas from
Azerbaijan into the small Puglia seaside town of San Foca by
2020. It is seen by Brussels as a priority project to wean
Europe off Russian gas dependence.
TAP developers had hoped to begin moving the first of
roughly 10,000 trees almost a year ago, but opposition by the
local town council, Puglia regional authority and
environmentalist has delayed the process.
A TAP spokesman said around 30 olive trees were removed on
Tuesday, and the aim was to speed up the process if the protests
did not escalate. Last week developers removed 33 trees, but
were forced to stop due to the protests.
If the trees are not shifted by April, when they go through
a six-month growth spurt and cannot be moved, the TAP consortium
must wait until late November to complete the removals.
(Writing by Stephen Jewkes and Oleg Vukmanovic in Milan,
editing by Susan Thomas)