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New Protests Erupt Against Removal of Olive Trees for TAP Pipeline

Using a law which dates back to 1931, officials in Lecce designated the area surrounding the TAP construction site a "red zone" and placed it under police control.

Dec. 4, 2017
By Julie Al-Zoubi

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Following months of protests against the removal of up to 10,000 ancient olive trees to make way for the con­tro­ver­sial Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), res­i­dents in the Puglian town of Melendugno woke up on November 13th to find their town in lock­down after police imple­mented a “red zone” overnight.

Nobody has access to this zone. People living there are com­pletely iso­lated.- Sabina Giese

Streets and olive farms had been cor­doned off with barbed-wire fences and con­crete bar­ri­ers and land owners within the red zone found they were required to obtain spe­cial per­mits to enter while every­one else was pro­hib­ited. Security patrols were brought in to con­trol the area and allegedly refused access to labor­ers, needed to har­vest the olives within the zone.

Using a law which dates back to 1931, “Ordinance Decreto Regio (Royal Decree) No 773,” offi­cials in Lecce placed the area sur­round­ing the TAP con­struc­tion site under police con­trol. Some of Melendugno’s res­i­dents were expelled and they may be denied access to the area for up to three years. Damage to prop­er­ties sus­tained during the encroach­ment had also been reported.

Local res­i­dent, Sabina Giese told the Olive Oil Times, “We are stopped every time and asked for doc­u­ments from the police. People living in the red zone have access to their homes with a spe­cial pass given by the police depart­ment but cannot host any friend or friends of their chil­dren in their homes. Nobody has access to this zone. People living there are com­pletely iso­lated.”



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Giese added, “Nobody can access the red-zone with­out the autho­riza­tion of TAP, not even the jour­nal­ists. They have to ask TAP to get into the zone and only TAP can ask the police for autho­riza­tion. Once the jour­nal­ists enter the zone, they are escorted like a group of tourists into the area while all work is sus­pended in the mean­time.”

According to Giese locals are angry that tax­pay­ers’ money is being spent on police pro­tec­tion for TAP per­son­nel and vehi­cles, despite the con­sor­tium hand­ing out pay­ments of €10,000 each to over 140 res­i­dents in an attempt to halt the protests.

Lisa Givert, TAP’s Head of Communications told Olive Oil Times, “TAP cannot com­ment on mat­ters per­tain­ing to the juris­dic­tion of the Italian law enforce­ment agen­cies or other such com­pe­tent author­i­ties. We under­stand how­ever that they have a respon­si­bil­ity to uphold law and order, and main­tain a peace­ful envi­ron­ment in which work can con­tinue in a calm, safe and peace­ful manner for all.”

Givert added, “Several people (TAP work­ers, etc.) had been attacked during the vio­lent protests for moving the first batch of olive trees in the first half of 2017. Also, TAP and its con­trac­tors have been the target of sev­eral acts of van­dal­ism. Protesters have also dam­aged the ancient stone walls, part of Puglia’s cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal her­itage and destroyed the nets pro­tect­ing the olive trees against the spread of the Xylella fas­tidiosa bac­terium.”

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As new ten­sions mounted over the red zone, protests erupted once again and demon­stra­tors against TAP threw eggs at police sta­tioned out­side a con­fer­ence on energy and pipelines in Lecce on November 20th.

Work on the TAP was halted in April when The Lazio Regional Administrative Court (TAR) over­turned the Italian government’s autho­riza­tion to relo­cate the trees. In July, clashes between pro­test­ers and police over the removal of 42 trees includ­ing ‘mon­u­men­tal olive trees’ resulted in the trees’ removal being delayed until November when their six-month growth spurt was fin­ished.

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The €4.5 bil­lion TAP pipeline which was approved in 2015 is the final leg of the Southern Gas Corridor that will trans­port Asian gas to Europe. The pipeline was given the go-ahead under the pro­vi­sion that olive trees along its route were trans­planted while the work took place and even­tu­ally returned to their orig­i­nal sites.

TAP was sched­uled to deliver its first gas to Italy by 2020 reduc­ing the EU’s depen­dence on Russian energy.