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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La police indienne tue onze militants écolos

by Marie-Noëlle Bertrand

Indian police kill 11 eco-activists

Translated Saturday 2 June 2018, by Eoin Downey

Police opened fire on a crowd in Southern India, which had gathered to demand the closure of a subsidiary of the British giant Vedanta, which is accused of pollution.

Dead for opposing a polluting factory: At least eleven people have been killed by police in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Protesters had gathered to oppose the environmentally detrimental practices of a copper foundry. The drama unfolded mid-week in Tuticorin, where almost 20,000 people came to demand the closure of Sterlite Copper, an affiliate of the British multinational Vedanta. The factory, located in India, has long been a target for scrutiny, with concerns around workplace safety conditions as well as pollution. The site at Tuticorin has been the centre for a battle which has lasted over twenty years, intensifying recently when Sterlite attempted to obtain the right to double its production capabilities.

According to the Tuticorin police, the assembled protesters were behaving more like rioters, which left police with no other choice but to use force.

“We shot real bullets up in the air to disperse (the crowd). But (they) continued to throw bombs and incendiary devices”, explained a police official to the AFP (French news agency) on Wednesday. “We were forced to fire rubber bullets, which unfortunately hit a man in the spine, who died”. Ten other people had already been shot the day before.

The version of the chain of events however, is far from being agreed upon. By showing their determination for the closure of the factory, the activists are refuting claims that they wished to stage an insurrection. “That makes twenty three years that we have been fighting”, explained Fathima Babu, whose written speeches are passed on by the citizen networks. “We had to assure ourselves that Sterlite was leaving our city because of all the deaths (which are attributed to them). There was no intention of violence”.

Regardless, the Tamil Nadu government suspended Internet access for the whole district, noting in correspondence addressed to its communication services that social media had heavily contributed to the massive gathering of activists.

The city’s police will have to “answer many questions”, responded Amnesty International, whereas many academics, oncologists and other professors are demanding that manufacturers respect the environmental regulations in India. The poor air quality alone is prematurely killing 1.1 million people in India every year.

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