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Coal Protesters Shot By Police, 4 Killed

Above Photo: Bangladeshi laborers unload coal from a boat, on the last day of a four-day blockade called by the opposition in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. AP PHOTO/A.M. AHAD

Bangladeshi police opened fire on a group of protestors Monday, killing at least four, according to local news reports. Thousands of people were charged with assault and vandalism in connection with the demonstration against Chinese-financed coal plants on the country’s southeast coast.

“We demand an immediate, full and independent inquiry into yesterday’s events to hold those responsible to account for the unnecessary murder of at least four people,” two Bangladeshi groups, National Committee for Saving the Sundarbans and Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon, said in an emailed statement.

According to the groups, 15,000 people were protesting land grabs by the plants’ developer. Police officials told AFP that one police officer was shot in the head and another 10 were injured, but villagers said the protest was peaceful.

“More than six thousand farmers are dependent on this fertile land for agriculture and salt production,” Sanjay Vashist, director of Climate Action Network South Asia, said in an emailed statement. “These farmers traveled to Gandamara to save their livelihoods and some paid for it with their lives.”

On Tuesday, hundreds of demonstrators returned to the street to protest the killings.
There are several coal plants under development in Bangladesh, causing a wave of protests across the tiny but populous Southeast Asian country. Last month, activists marched 150 miles to protest a plant proposed in the Sundarbans, a World Heritage site and the world’s largest mangrove forest.
This is not the first time anti-coal protesters have been killed, either. Six people were killed in 2006 in Bangladesh while demonstrating against a coal power plant. Several protestors have been killed in India over the last decade.
Coal plants, while providing added electricity to developing nations, can also devastate water and air quality. Coal-fired power plants are not only massive contributors to climate change, but also spew mercury and other toxic byproducts — another key concern for the protesters who demonstrated this week in the tiny village of Gandamara, outside Bangladesh’s second-largest city, Chittagong.
“Experts have also pointed out that the operation of coal plants would cause major damage to the delicate ecosystem of the area, due to air and water pollution and increase in boat traffic to deliver coal to the plant,” Vashist said.
By and large, though, local opposition has been one of the most fruitful ways of stopping the development of coal power plants.
Pressure to decrease international coal finance has also been a key driver for slowing the growth of coal worldwide. The United States has pledged to stop financing coal power plants in almost all cases, and at their most recent meeting, countries of the Organization for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD) likewise pledged to limit coal financing.
China, though, continues to finance coal projects, including several in Bangladesh and across Asia. Japan, which is part of the OECD, has been criticized for resisting the push to stop coal financing.

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