India: Catholics killed by police during protest over toxic copper processing plant


Source: LMN/UCAN

Four Catholics were among 12 people who died when police opened fire on thousands protesting a multimillion-dollar copper-processing plant which they claim pollutes their environment and drinking water. At least 20 people, including a Catholic priest, are in hospital with bullet injuries after Tamil Nadu state police fired at about 20,000 people gathered at the plant owned by London-based Vedanta in the coastal district of Tuticorin, a Christian centre in southern India, on 22 May.

"The death toll may go up as several are critically injured," Fr Norbert Thomas, chancellor of Tuticorin Diocese, told ucanews.com. He said police fired indiscriminately to disperse the crowd after it turned violent on the 100th day of a protest. The protest was demanding complete shutdown of the copper plant. Bishop Yvon Ambroise of Tuticorin agreed that the firing was indiscriminate.

Vedanta's subsidiary Sterlite Copper has operated a smelter in the area for 25 years with an annual capacity of 400,000 tonnes and is seeking renewal of its license, which expires this year. People have been protesting for the past three months and on the 100th day they organised a march to the office of the district collector, said the bishop. The protest followed the non-violent principle of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the Indian nation, and the five-kilometer march was also peaceful, the statement said. Police baton-charged people near the office and some responded by throwing rocks at police, which led to police firing shots and the deaths of innocent people, he said.

"The whole thing started after police action," said Fr Thomas, adding that firing was "so brutal" that several women and children were also injured. One bullet passed through the mouth of a 17-year-old girl student, killing her on the spot. Among the injured is Fr Leo Jayaseelan. A bullet went through his stomach but he was operated on and is stable now, the chancellor priest said. He added that the polluting plant operates within the city limits and people have been adversely affected by toxic fumes. In recent years, the area has reported increased cases of cancer. The plant is located within a parish and affects 19 parishes in the city, which together cater to about 100,000 Catholics.

Lydia James of the London Mining Network said: "Sterlite Industries, a subsidiary of the London-listed mining company Vedanta Resources, has faced strong local opposition since it started operations in 1994, in Tuticorin. The company is accused of extensive pollution of both ground water and air causing serious health impacts for local people. There are allegations of activist intimidation and worker incidents at the plant and the company has been subject to investigations in India and in London. Groups in the UK and India are working to put pressure on Vedanta to take responsibility for its appalling environmental and human rights record. As more details come to light over the killings of the 12 protesters, we will be acting in solidarity with effected communities who are seeking justice",

There will be a demonstration outside London's Indian High Commission on Saturday between 3-5pm. There are more details on the event at: www.facebook.com/events/4932371976851830/

Read more about the London Mining Network here: http://londonminingnetwork.org/

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