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Protesters oppose plan to fell "Anne Frank's Tree"

Looking at that majestic chestnut tree visible through an attic skylight - her only window to the outside world - Anne Frank dreamed of freedom, as she hided from the Nazis in a cramped Amsterdam apartment.

Now a group of tree conservationists and local activists are fighting a last-ditch effort to prevent the badly diseased tree from being cut down, saying it is a living link to the memory of the teenage diarist, who died in a concentration camp aged 15.

"It's a monument to the spirit of what Anne Frank wrote, hope and light, which she did not have," said Sylvio Mutal, a neighbor whose study overlooks the courtyard where the tree is located.

Mutal, a former consultant to the U.N. on preservation of monuments, called a decision by the City of Amsterdam to fell the tree next week a "betrayal," after earlier promises to wait until Jan. 1 to consider a salvage plan.

"I'm not doubting the tree is sick and may have to be cut," he said. "What I'm saying is I want a second opinion."

The ancient, massive tree suffers from a fungus that has caused more than half its trunk to rot. The city gave the order Tuesday to have it cut down Nov. 21, citing an appraisal that said it was in acute danger of falling.

But opponents including the Netherlands' Trees Institute challenged that decision as over-hasty, and argued the tree is a living historical monument worthy of extraordinary measures to save.

The Utrecht-based institute carried out an independent investigation of the tree on Wednesday and said it will file for an injunction to block the felling order.

Its investigation found that while much of the tree's trunk is sick, what remains healthy is strong enough to hold during a storm and the main supporting roots are healthy.

"This tree is of very great cultural and historical value, and ecological value," said Institute arborist Annemiek van Loon. "You can't just replace a 160-year-old tree."

A rescue plan would likely involve supports for the tree's trunk and limbs.

The tree stands behind the "secret annex" atop the canal-side warehouse where the Frank family hid during Nazi Germany's occupation of the Netherlands in World War II.

The Jewish teenager kept her diary while she remained indoors for 25 months until the family was arrested in August 1944. Her diary was preserved and later published and has now been read by millions of people. Anne Frank died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945.

"Nearly every morning I go to the attic to blow the stuffy air out of my lungs," she wrote on Feb. 23, 1944. "From my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind. ...

"As long as this exists, I thought, and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts I cannot be unhappy."

City spokesman Ton Boon it would be "irresponsible to let the tree stand" after the most recent study.

"We've taken a lot of effort ourselves to preserve this tree," he said, referring to an effort to cleanse the surrounding soil in the 1990s, and trimming the tree's crown after it was designated a hazard in 2005, to reduce wind drag. What remains is estimated to weigh around 27 tons (30 short tons).

"We would have liked to have waited (for the salvage plan)," Boon said. "But at a certain moment, reality comes knocking."

He said he had been authorized to speak on behalf of Henric Pomes, the owner of Keizersgracht 188, adjacent to the building that is now the Anne Frank Museum.

The tree is on Pomes' property and he would be liable for damages caused if the tree falls, Boon said. It is an open question whether his insurer would cover damages.

In a worst case scenario, the tree could hurt someone or severely damage nearby buildings - including the Anne Frank Museum, where the tiny apartment has been preserved.

The Museum has previously distanced itself from the dispute over the tree, but now backs the city.

It has already taken grafts and plans to replace the tree with a sapling from the original chestnut.

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