MAC: Mines and Communities

Bangladesh coal mine protest spreads after deaths

Published by MAC on 2006-08-26

Bangladesh coal mine protest spreads after deaths

By Serajul Islam Quadir

DHAKA, Aug 27 (Reuters)

Protests erupted across Bangladesh on Sunday over a British company's plan to develop a coal mine, a day after six people were killed, when police opened fire during a demonstration.

At least 20 people were injured in fresh clashes with police after the protesters gathered near the offices of Asia Energy Plc in Phulbari in the northwest, where the mine is being developed, demanding its immediate closure.

Asia Energy wants to develop open pit mining at Phulbari in Dinajpur district, 350 km (220 miles) northwest of Dhaka.

Local residents and rights groups say the mine would displace hundreds of families and damage the environment.

Police evicted a group of protesters who blocked a highway bridge linking the northern districts with Dhaka.

In the capital, students staged demonstrations demanding the resignation of the government's energy adviser Mahmudur Rahman and state minister for home affairs Lutfuzzaman Babar for the deaths of the six protesters on Saturday.

A rights group called Alliance for Economic Justice staged a protest in Dhaka, accusing the British miner of being responsible for the Phulbari deaths.

"Killer Asia Energy get off Bangladesh", "How much blood do you need?" read placards carried by the alliance members.

Asia Energy's chief executive officer in Bangladesh, Gary Lye, on Sunday met energy adviser Mahmudur and discussed the situation in Phulbari and elsewhere. He voiced concern for Asia Energy personnel in Phulbari.

"I have got 40 people and their families living out there at the moment and I am concerned about their security. They are being intimidated and it's not fair, not fair to anybody," Lye told reporters after meeting the adviser.


Officials and witnesses said more than 100 people were also wounded during Saturday's clashes, when police and paramilitary troops fired hundreds of bullets and at least 50 tear gas shells to disperse about 20,000 demonstrators.

Police said the violence had erupted when the protesters, some armed with bows and arrows, tried to storm the office of the British firm.

Students have called for a nationwide strike in educational institutions on Monday to protest about the protesters' deaths.

Lye issued a statement on Saturday denying the project would harm the environment and said it would benefit local people.

In another statement on Sunday, Lye said Asia Energy deeply regretted the protesters' deaths and sent its sympathies to the families of the dead and injured.

He said Asia Energy arranged water supply and health care for the poor villagers in Phulbari and recently offered them televisions to watch the World Cup soccer.

"We are not enemies," he told reporters. "A section of people trying to derive political benefits out of conflicts ... are fuelling the Phulbari violence."

Energy adviser Mahmudur said: "the victims of the violence were guinea pigs in the hands of vested quarters. This is really unfortunate for every one of us."

"This incident has sent the wrong message to foreign investors, which we cannot afford at all when we are struggling hard to woo more and more investment."

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