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Five killed, 50 hurt as police fire on protesters: Cops go berserk as 20,000 demonstrators protest a

Published by MAC on 2006-08-27

Five killed, 50 hurt as police fire on protesters: Cops go berserk as 20,000 demonstrators protest against open-pit mining at Phulbari

Staff Correspondent, NewAge

27th August 2006

Dhaka, Bangladesh,

At least five people were killed and more than 50 injured when the police and the paramilitary BDR opened fire on demonstrators protesting against the plan for open-pit mining at Phulbari coal field in Dinajpur on Saturday, according to police and witnesses.

The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port on Saturday lays siege to the Asia Energy office at Phulbari in Dinajpur, left, law enforcers go for action on the committee activists, right.

The demonstrators under the banner of National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port, laid a siege to the office of Asia Energy, a UK-based multi- national company which signed a deal with the government for mining coal, at Phulbari, 271 kilometre north-west of capital Dhaka, in the afternoon.

Witnesses said the lawmen opened fire on the 20,000-strong demonstrators when they started hurling stones at the police force after being intercepted. The indiscriminate firing left one person dead on the spot and scores of others injured.

Four protesters died in Dinajpur Medical College Hospital.

Locals alleged that the paramilitary BDR personnel, who were also deployed to maintain order, took away two bodies.

They confirmed identities of four deceased -Tariqul, 22, Khairul, 10, Ahsan Habib, 25, Chunnu, 28 -while the name of a Rajshahi University student could not be known.

The police and the BDR fired at least 70 gunshots and lobbed 100 tear gas canisters to disperse the angry demonstrators who fought pitched battles with the law enforcers for several hours.

A number of police personnel were also injured in the clash.

A local committee styled 'Phulbari Rakksha Committee' called a dawn-to-dusk shutdown in Phulbari for today to protest against the killings.

The police and locals said several thousand people gathered in front of the GM College ground to join a scheduled protest programme organised by the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas and Mineral Resources, Power and Port to lay a siege to Asia Energy's Phulbari coal mine project site in Dinajpur.

The committee's programme was to register protest against an open-pit method of mining at the Phulbari coalfield leased to Asian Energy. Such mining could pose a serious threat to the environment and livelihoods of the local people.

At one stage the demonstrators, led by Engineer Sheikh Muhammad Shaheedullah, convener of the committee, Professor Anu Muhammad, its member secretary, Bimal Biwas, general secretary of the Workers Party, Tipu Biswas of the Jatiya Gana Front, and Mosaddek Hossain Labu, co-ordinator of the Dinajpur district committee, marched towards the coal mine site.

As soon as the protesters neared Urbashi cinema the police and the BDR swung into action charging batons indiscriminately to disperse the agitators. The angry demonstrators retaliated by hurling stones at the law enforcers triggering the clash. The police fired at least 100 rounds of tear gas shells on the protesters.

As the whole area turned into a virtual battlefield and the situation deteriorated the police and members of the Bangladesh Rifles fired on the demonstrators, leaving five people killed on the spot and more than 50 others injured.

Nayeem Ahmed, the DIG of Rajshahi division, told New Age that the situation was under control and huge contingents of the police, the armed police, the BDR and members of the RAB were deployed in the area to avoid further troubles.

'I cannot say how many people were killed. Police said three persons were killed, but the media claimed that more than five were killed,' Nayeem added.

Anu Muhammad, the member-secretary of the National Committee and a professor of Jahangirnagar University, who was one of the organisers of the protest programme at Phulbari, told New Age on Sunday evening that the police and the BDR fired on a peaceful demonstration of the National Committee. 'I cannot give the exact number of the dead or injured, but the casualties were high,' he said. He demanded exemplary punishment of the killers.

The Workers Party general secretary, Bimal Biswas, who also took part at the Phulbari protest rally, told New Age that the police and the BDR opened fire without provocation.

Mohammad Khurshid Alam Moti, the principal of Phulbari Women's College, told New Age, 'we condemn such barbarous attack on peaceful demonstrators.'

Tension was prevailing in the area and huge contingents of the police, the armed police, the BDR and the RAB were deployed.

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