Monday, November 29, 1999

Posco puts Orissa on the boil again

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Bhubaneswar, May 16 -- The Orissa police on Saturday fired rubber bullets and teargas shells at hundreds of activists protesting South Korean steelmaker Posco's plan to build a $12 billion (Rs 55,200 crore) plant near the port town of Paradip. At least 25 people were injured and five arrested in the clash - the latest in a festering agitation by local residents who are not ready to vacate their land for the 12-million-tonne steel plant. The injured included five policemen, who were hit by crude bombs and stones pelted by the protesters. This comes barely three days after police firing in Kalinganagar, India's upcoming steel hub 100 km north of Bhubaneswar, allegedly killed one person. Several large Indian and foreign companies - like Vedanta Group and Tata Steel, besides Posco - are setting up plants in Orissa to exploit its mineral wealth. This has brought them into conflict with native tribals and small farmers, who have lived on the lands for centuries and who are refusing to give up their ancestral lands. And this survival versus development debate has led to protests, violent clashes, bloodshed and deaths (See box). More than 1,500 police personnel were involved in tackling Saturday's protest, which turned violent when the authorities tried to clear the area of the mostly women agitators. More than 1,000 protestors had gathered at the scene. Earlier, the police had prevented Bibhu Prasad Tarai, the local MP, from joining the agitation at Balitutha in Jagatsinghpur - the project site 90 km east of Bhubaneswar. "He (Tarai) was arrested to avoid any law and order problem," Superintendent of Police S. Devdutta Singh said. "The whole area has been cleared of demonstrators. The situation is under control." Tarai was released later."We believe in peaceful industrialisation. No one should indulge in violence," Patnaik told reporters in the state capital. Anti-Posco activists have been staging a demonstration at Balitutha since January 26, blocking entry of government and Posco officials to the site.

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