Serbia: Historic oak tree stalls motorway construction

A view of the oak tree with the road in the background Image copyright RTS.rs
Image caption Construction has been halted about 300m (1,000ft) from the oak tree

A major motorway construction project in Serbia has stalled because of a dispute over a centuries-old oak tree, it's reported.

The tree is said to be 600 years old, and stands in the western village of Savinac, right in path of the new Corridor 11 motorway, the Balkan Insight website reports. Once completed, the road will connect Serbia's capital, Belgrade, with the Montenegrin coast. But local people are unhappy about plans to chop the tree down. Some consider it sacred, and believe that anyone who tries to remove it will be cursed. "By God, I wouldn't dare get a digger anywhere near it," local resident Milan Petrovic tells the Blic website.

They've been campaigning for several years for the motorway to be rerouted. In 2013, an elaborate plan was mooted to save the tree by encasing its roots in a steel structure, and erecting glass to protect it from traffic fumes, but it came to nothing. Construction is now within sight of the tree, and although work has been halted, the government says there's no money to alter the road's route. "Serbia is not a rich country that enjoys the luxury of changing a highway route because of a tree," says Infrastructure Minister Zorana Mihajlovic.

Instead the minister has agreed to a proposal from a local environmentalist who suggested grafting a piece of the old tree onto a new one, so that it could live on in a new location. But local people aren't impressed with that idea, and have challenged Ms Mihajlovic to come and chop the tree down herself.

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