Monday, November 29, 1999

Nine injured as anti-Posco protesters, cops clash

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Bhubaneswar, May 15 (IANS) At least nine people, including six policemen, were injured Saturday after police used force to disperse villagers protesting a project by South Korean steel major Posco in Orissa's Jagatsinghpur district, an official said.Police baton charged and fired rubber bullets on hundreds of protesters after they refused to vacate a road at Balitutha, the entry point to the proposed site that is blocked since Jan 26 to prevent the entry of government and company officials into the area.The district authorities earlier termed the blockade illegal and clamped section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code in the area prohibiting the assembly of five or more people.'Police had to initiate action after the protesters hurled about 100 low intensity bombs and pelted stones,' district Superintendent of Police Suresh Singh Dev Dutta Singh told IANS.'At least six policemen were injured,' he said, adding that at least three protesters sustained minor injuries.However, Posco Pratirodha Sangram Samiti (PPSS) - which has been spearheading the stir - denied the police's claims of resorting to violence and said the number of injured was at least 15.'It was a peaceful protest. Police fired rubber bullets in which at least 15 of our people have sustained injuries,' the group's spokesman Prasant Paikray told IANS.'The allegations that protesters hurled bombs and pelted stones are totally baseless,' he said.Earlier, police had arrested the local MP, Communist Party of India's (CPI) Bibhu Prasad Tarai, as he was headed to meet the protesters.'We arrested him for apprehension of breach of peace,' the district police chief said.Tarai's arrest and the police action led to CPI activists staging protests at various places.Hundreds of party workers staged protests in front of different police stations in Jagatsinghpur district. Party activists also held protests in Bhubaneswar.Terming the developments 'unfortunate', the Bharatiya Janata Party's state unit chief Jual Oram charged the Naveen Patnaik government with not taking people into confidence and using force on them.Posco, one of the world's biggest steel makers, signed a deal with the Orissa government in June 2005 to set up the project near the port town of Paradip in Jagatsinghpur, some 100 km from here, by 2016.The steel maker requires about 4,004 acres for the project, of which 2,900 acres is forest land. The project has been delayed for over three years due to various reasons, including protests by local residents.Thousands of villagers have been protesting the project, saying it will displace them from their homeland and ruin their betel-leaf farms. Posco and the government maintain the project will bring prosperity and employment to an impoverished region.There has been no progress on the ground despite the state receiving final clearance from the central forest and environment ministry for acquiring forest land for the project.

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