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People defy ban, agitate at Phulbari: Law enforcers conduct house-to-house search, hartal observed

Published by MAC on 2006-08-28

People defy ban, agitate at Phulbari: Law enforcers conduct house-to-house search, hartal observed

Staff Correspondent, NewAge

28th August 2006

Phulbari and surroundings are simmering with tension following the death of five people in police firing on a protest demonstration against a coal mine project which locals fear would displace the farmers and threaten the environment.

The first day of the indefinite hartal [strike] enforced by the people of Phulbari passed off on Sunday amid mounting tension while a half-day hartal was observed peacefully in Dinajpur town. The local administration has slapped a ban on gatherings in Phulbari.

The government has formed a committee to probe the bloody incident. The state minister for home affairs, Lutfozzaman Babar, told reporters that the deputy commissioner of Dinajpur, Tahsinur Rahman, had been directed to investigate the incident.

Besides, he said, he had requested the energy adviser, Mahmudur Rahman, to find out why the people had turned ‘violent’ in Phulbari.

During the strike on Sunday, several hundred people took to the streets at Phulbari defying the restrictions on gatherings and staged agitation all day.

They shouted slogans condemning the unprovoked firing by the police and the paramilitary BDR on demonstrators.

The demonstrators vowed to continue their movement until the Asia Energy, a British multinational company with which the government signed a mining agreement, was ousted from the country.

The protesters blocked the main roads with stones, bricks, logs and electric poles. At about 9:00am, the BDR personnel charged batons on a procession in the Phulbari municipal area.

They also snatched cameras from two photojournalists and returned those after the on-duty magistrate, Sudipta Roy removed the rolls of film, witnesses said.

The demonstrators and the law enforcers also chased each other at different places including Sujapur Road, TT Mor, Dhaka Mor and Gouripur Road.

During the hartal, all shops, even the kitchen markets, offices and educational institutions remained closed. There was no traffic on roads snapping the tiny northern town from the rest of the country.

Earlier, the law enforcers conducted a house-to-house search on Saturday night forcing the residents to stay indoors putting out lights.

The locals alleged that the law enforcers had tortured innocent people during the overnight raids. The law enforcers also looted sweetmeat and cigarette shops, they alleged.

The Phulbari upazila nirbahi officer, Hasan Sarwar, told the media that the activities of Asia Energy would be stopped if the people did not want it.

‘Nothing will be done here against the people’s will,’ he said.

The deputy commissioner of Dinajpur, Tahsinur Rahman, admitted that five people had been killed in Saturday’s incident. However, the police superintendent, Delwar Hossain Miah, denied the law enforcers had opened fire. He claimed that the police lobbed tear gas shells and fired rubber bullets.

The Phulbari unit convener of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port, Syed Saiful Islam Jewel, alleged that the law enforcers had opened fire on demonstrators without provocation on Saturday.

He demanded an inquiry into Saturday’s police firing and suspension of the activities of Asia Energy. ‘We’ll continue movement until the persons responsible for Saturday’s incident are punished,’ he said.

The Phulbari municipality chairman, Shahjahan Ali Sarkar Putu, demanded compensation for the dead and injured in Saturday’s incident.

The bodies of the victims were not handed over to their relatives. Three of the bodies were lying at Dinajpur Medical College Hospital morgue while the rest two at the Rangpur Medical College Hospital morgue till the evening.

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 coalfield in Dinajpur on Saturday.

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