Norbert Millauer  /  AFP-Getty Images
Police watch as a 200-year-old beech tree is cut down Tuesday in Dresden, Germany.
updated 1/15/2008 3:42:05 PM ET 2008-01-15T20:42:05

German police broke through a blockade of activists and felled a 200-year-old beech tree on Tuesday to clear the way for a new bridge over the Elbe river that is opposed by environmentalists and UNESCO.

"Today's action will simply bring more people to protest against the bridge," said a defiant Sara-Ann Lampmann, spokeswoman for Robin Wood, the group organizing the protest to save venerable trees.

Two of the activists had chained themselves through a metal pipe to the beech and it took several hours for police to saw through the pipe and remove them.

About 50 protesters were there on the ground, 10 were in the 65-foot-tall beech tree, and three were in a nearby linden tree, police said. Ten protesters were taken into custody.

The raid ended a monthlong standoff between the activists and city builders widening an access road to the planned four-lane Waldschloesschen bridge.

The bridge plans have been criticized as well by those who fear it will encroach on the habitat of the lesser horseshoe bat. After a long legal battle, a German administrative court ruled in November that construction of the 2,083-foot bridge could proceed, despite the possible threat to the bat's dwelling place.

The court also ruled that a strict speed limit of 19 mph must be in place during nighttime hours in a bid to reduce any disruptions to the habitat of the nocturnal bats.

The bridge also has been at the center of a long-running dispute with historical preservationists. UNESCO's World Heritage Committee has said if it is built, it will mar the landscape of the Elbe valley and could put the city at risk of being removed from the list of World Heritage sites.

Dresden is often referred to as the Florence of the Elbe because of the baroque architecture that gives it a distinctive skyline.

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