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Protests against Vedanta smelter in TN turn violent, 9 killed in police firing

Barricades lie strewn after a violent protest demanding closure of Vedanta's Sterlite Copper unit entered its 100th day, in Tuticorin, on Tuesday. (PTI picture)

Tuticorin, May 22 (Agencies): The months-long protests against Vedanta's copper smelter here turned deadly when hundreds of people fought pitched battles with the police, who opened fire.

Nine persons died in the firing. 

The agitators hurled stones and set government vehicles and property on fire as they went on the rampage.

The agitators say the Sterlite copper smelter is a major source of pollution and a risk to fisheries in this port town.

Police said nearly 5000 people gathered near a local church and insisted on taking a out a rally to the district collectorate after they were denied permission to march to the copper smelter.

Following a directive of the Madras High Court, the authorities had banned the assembly of more than four people in and around the plant.

Initial pushing and shoving soon led to violent clashes, and people began hurling stones at the police and overturned a vehicle. Security personnel used batons and teargas to break up the protest.

As the violence spiralled, police opened fire, killing a man.

A state minister said that, although the government appreciated the sentiments of the protesters, police firing had become “unavoidable”.

”Entering the collector's office and (perpetrating) violence is not acceptable.... (police) firing became an unavoidable,” fisheries minister D. Jayakumar told reporters in Chennai.

The plant has been shut for nearly two months after the state pollution control body refused it permission to continue operations, saying that it has failed to comply with environment rules.

Vedanta plans to double the capacity of the smelter to 800,000 tonnes. It has earlier said that the protests are based on “false allegations”

The opposition parties condemned the police action. M.K. Stalin, working president of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, said the state government should have sorted out the issue earlier through talks with the protesters.

”Since the government did not take any steps in this regard, the people launched today's massive rally....police attacked people indiscriminately and opened fire on them which is condemmnable,” Stalin, who is also the Leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly, told reporters in Chennai.

Meanwhile, a peaceful demonstration was also held near the old bus stand in Tuticorin, demanding the closure of the Sterlite unit and against its proposed expansion.

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