By Raaj Manik
At least five innocent protesters were killed after police opened fire on a protest of 1500 villagers who were protesting against two China-backed power plants at Bashkhali in Chittagong, a location in southeastern Bangladesh on Monday, the 4th April.
“This is a terrible tragedy and major news. It is the largest loss of life at an anti-coal protest in Bangladesh since the tragic deaths in the August 26, 2006 killings at Phulbari, Bangladesh, where three people were killed and 200 injured by paramilitaries. It is the worst overall loss of life in anti-coal protests worldwide since the killings of six people in Jharkhand, India, at two protests in April 2011” , noted Ted Nace, the editor of Coal Swarm.
Professor Anu Muhammd, the Member Secretary of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port in Bangladesh, noted: “the villagers in Bashkhali have been loud against the destructive plans of S. Alam Group for months because the company wants to build two coal-fired power plants in the area by evicting thousands of villagers and land owners. The coal-businessmen of S. Alam Group, financed by two Chinese firms — SEPCOIII Electric Power and HTG, were fully aware of the strong opposition to the coal-power plant.”
The shooting on villagers started dramatically. Around 1500 villagers had gathered in Gandamara, a remote coastal town, to protest against the construction of two coal-fired power plants that they say will evict thousands from the area. Local authorities had banned the demonstration from taking place and the police opened fire on the crowd when the protesters needed support of police as they were demonstrating against a greedy company.
District police chief Hafiz Akter told AFP that ‘Four people died, including a pair of brothers’ while informal sources and witnesses said, at least five were dead. More than 100 were injured. The causality initiated by the state security forces caused injury of 11 policemen. One officer was shot in the head also.
The state administrators are fabricating information. M. Mesbahuddin, a government administrator in Chittagong district, told: “The clashes erupted when police came under attack by local villagers protesting against the move to install the power plant by S. Alam group with finance from China”. This statement has been challenged by the survivors and eye witnesses.
According to AFP, Abu Ahmed, a member of the village committee that staged the protest told: “Police opened fire as we brought out a procession against the power plants. They even chased the villagers to their homes”.
Abu Ahmed was shot in his leg. He said that the villagers had been holding peaceful protests for days after S. Alam, the local conglomerate behind the project, started purchasing land for the plants in the village, which lies on the edge of the Bay of Bengal. But government did not pay attention to the village-protests and the district administration remained silent for months. This led the villagers to stage a mass-protest which turned into the worst tragedy in the history of coal-killings in Bangladesh.
A Doctor at Chittagong Medical College Hospital, Saiful Islam, said that seven people, including four who were shot by live rounds, were brought to his clinic. The condition of each of them were critical.
Rumana Hashem, the founder of Phulbari Solidarity Group and an eye witness to Phulbari tragedy in 2006, noted in an email:
“You know what? Only less than half of the information is coming out of the villages because mainstream media is not willing to cover the news in detail or as widely as it needed. This has always been the case in Bangladesh. I remember that night on 26 August in 2006, when Police raided our house, broke into housewife’s bedroom and warned us (without written warrant) that they would arrest us all, nobody knew the dirty crime of policemen and the male state security forces who entered the house in absence of men in the town. Only few media had covered how we survived the night under outrageous atrocities by state security forces, including BDR and RAB. I am sure there have been arbitrary raids and harassment of villagers by police in Gandamara, which we are not supposed to know. Only little news is coming out of the villages which are currently under attack of coal-businessmen.
Chittagong-based S. Alam Group, as the Bangladesh developer, plans to build two coal-fired power plants in the area, which will have the capacity to produce 1,224 megawatts of electricity. Two Chinese firms — SEPCOIII Electric Power and HTG — are financing $1.75 billion of the the plants’ estimated $2.4 billion cost. This attack in the port city has been a simultaneous attack by coal criminals when the nation has been protesting the coal-fired power plant in Rampal, a close vicinity of the country’s largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans.
The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port in Bangladesh has extended its support and full solidarity with the protesters in Bashkhali, Gandamara in Chittagong. There are two solidarity demonstrations to be held, simultaneously, at Dhaka Press Club and Chittagong Press Club this afternoon.
Further news and updates:
Of Deception and Development: article by Any Muhammad http://www.dhakatribune.com/op-ed/2016/apr/11/deception-and-development
Bashkhali Coal Power Plant: Propaganda and Reality: by Kallol Mostofa