Around 200 environmentalists tried to stop the final 42 of 200 centuries-old trees being moved on Monday night.
The group has been camped out since March in an effort to block the removal of the plants, which is taking place to allow the construction of the TransAdriatic Pipeline (TAP). The controversial project will see natural gas piped from the Caspian Sea to Italy.
Police were called to San Basilio, Lecce at around 2am on Tuesday, where protesters had blocked the road, preventing contractors from reaching the trees they were due to move.
According to the Repubblica di Bari, some of the activists damaged two trucks used by the company, slashing their tyres and damaging the headlights. On Tuesday morning, there was still a heavy police presence and traffic diversions in place.
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Local mayor Marco Poti criticized the company, which he said had agreed to suspend its activities between June and September in order to avoid disruption close to “one of the most important resorts in Puglia”.
However, TAP responded to say that it had the necessary permits and that moving the trees to a storage facility was “necessary in order to be able to look after and adequately protect the trees”.
The multinational has promised that the trees will be kept alive and replanted in their original locations once the pipe has been laid. The rest of the 210 uprooted trees are already being kept in a Lecce storage facility with an irrigation system and awning to protect the plants from insects.
Campaigners have argued that the pipeline should be brought ashore in an already-industrialized area of the Puglia region, to the north of the olive groves they say are at risk of being blighted.
Italy's centre-left government has declared the pipeline a strategic project – making it harder for it to be blocked by local objections.
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Photo: John Werich