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Police fire on Andhra protesters: 1 dead

Hyderabad, July 14 (IANS) At least one person was killed and two injured as police opened fire to quell violent protests against a thermal power project in Andhra Pradesh’s Srikakulam district, about 600 km from here, Wednesday. Local people think the project will harm the ecology and destroy traditional livelihoods.

While Home Minister P. Sabita Indra Reddy has confirmed one death, eyewitnesses claimed three people were killed in the police firing that took place at Sompeta in the district in north coastal Andhra Pradesh.

Reddy said the condition of the two injured was critical.

Police fired as protesters resorted to violence while trying to stall foundation stone laying ceremony of a 2,640 MW electricity project being built by Nagarjuna Construction Company (NCC) at a cost of Rs1,200 crore (USD 250 million).

The home minister told reporters here that Sompeta was still tense. She said protesters set afire a police station and injured as many as 45 policemen in the large-scale violence.

About 80 people, including policemen and media persons, were injured in the clashes between protesters and the security personnel.

Locals including farmers and fishermen are opposing the project as it is coming up on 1,890 acre on a wetland and is close to the sea coast. They fear the project will destroy the ecology and will take away their livelihood.

Dozens of people mostly fishermen barged into the project site and attacked policemen and torched a police vehicle. Several policemen were injured in the stone pelting.

Trouble broke out Wednesday morning when a group of villagers gathered at the project site and tried to disrupt the foundation stone ceremony. Police arrested few protesters.

Later, fishermen and farmers including a large number of women rushed to the project site. They barged into the project area, pelted stones and set afire few police vehicles. The area turned into a battle field as police and private security guards hired by the NCC chased the protesters and baton charged them.

Police also used teargas shells and later opened fire killing one person and injuring four others.

The local community under the banner of environment protection committee has been opposing the project on the ground that it would destroy the biodiversity of the swamp and endanger the livelihood of thousands of fishermen and farmers. They alleged that a major chunk of the land for the project was forcibly acquired from the farmers.

The environmental activists opposing the project point out that it was coming close to water body called Beela and will affect 150,000 people of 30 villages. Farmers depend on the water from Beela for their paddy crop while it is also the life line for the fishermen.

They alleged that police recently distributed a pamphlet in the villages warning them not to hold protests against the project.

Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar had also visited the area a few months ago to oppose the project.

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