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Bangladesh Coal Plant Protests Continue After Demonstrators Killed

Above Photo: Around 500 villagers gathered in Gandamara, a remote coastal town in Chittagong district of Bangladesh, to protest against the construction of two China backed coal-fired power plants that they say will evict thousands from the area. Photograph: Courtesy 350 South Asia

Villagers stage further protests following the deaths of at least four people demonstrating against plans for two Chinese-funded coal-fired plants

Bangladeshi villagers staged further protests on Tuesday after police opened fire and killed at least four people demonstrating against the planned construction of two large Chinese-financed coal-fired power stations.

According to police and eyewitness reports, several thousand villagers gathered in the coastal town of Gandamara near Chittagong on Monday, to protest against the two power plants. These are expected to force the eviction of several thousand people in a fertile coastal farming areas and the demolition of temples and schools.

The police admitted killing four people after the villagers’ demonstration was banned but the protesters on Tuesday claimed that at least five people had died and four others were missing. Around 100 people, including 11 police, are believed to have been injured in violent clashes.

“We’ve filed cases against around 3,200 people for the violence. We’ve identified 57 of them but the rest are unnamed,” police chief Swapan Kumar told the AFP news agency.

Eyewitness Abu Ahmed, who was was shot in the leg, told coal protest groupPhulbari solidarity group that the villagers had been holding peaceful protests for several days after S. Alam, the Bangladeshi developer, started buying up land.

“The government did not pay attention to the villagers’ 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,” said Ahmed.

“This is the largest loss of life at an anti-coal protest in Bangladesh since 2006. 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,” said Ted Nace, editor of Coal Swarm, an open-source encyclopaedia on coal sponsored by the Center for Media and Democracy.

The coal plants, which are expected to cost $2.4bn and have a capacity of 1,224MW, are said to be needed to supply the fast-growing industrial city of Chittagong, which experiences regular power cuts.

Because Bangladesh has limited coal reserves, the plants are expected to import millions of tonnes a year from Indonesia which is itself experiencing coal protests as farmland and forest is destroyed and communities are evicted.

The clashes near Chittagong follow major demonstrations last month against the building of a large coal-fired power station at Rampal, on the edge of the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest.

Government plans to increase power supplies have been thwarted by powerful grassroot groups objecting to the loss of farmland and communities.

Plans by a UK coal company to develop one of the biggest coal mines in the world, at Phulbari in the north of the country, have been delayed for eight years following the death of three protesters and 200 injuries at a rally in 2008. The mine would involve the eviction of more than 50 villages.

According to the Ministry of Power, only around 60% of people in Bangladesh have access to electricity and demand is growing 7% a year. Two-thirds of its electricity is generated by gas and the country imports around 3.5m tonnes of oil and 2m tonnes of diesel a year.

In May 2011, the government said it had plans generate more than 10,000MW of electricity from coal-based power plants by 2021 and 20,000MW by 2030. Nearly half the electricity would be be generated using imported coal.

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