‘Withdraw cases against anti-POSCO villagers’

Bhubaneswar, May 26 (IANS) A citizen’s panel Wednesday demanded immediate withdrawal of police cases against villagers opposed to a project by South Korean steel major POSCO in Orissa.

A fact-finding team of the National Citizens Forum led by retired judge of the Bombay High Court justice H. Suresh demanded this here at a press conference after meeting a cross-section of people in Jagatsinghpur district.

Suresh said the team travelled through several villages and interacted with victims of the May 15 police firing.

‘A number of villagers testified that the police set on fire the protest site and shops and houses but ironically police has filed cases against anti-POSCO leader Abhaya Sahu and others for arson and looting,’ Suresh said.

‘Similarly police has filed false cases against about 800 people who were protesting against the project in a democratic manner,’ Suresh added.

The fact-finding team said it wants immediate withdrawal of the cases.

‘The police attack on May 15 on peaceful protestors was totally uncalled for and should have no space in a democratic country like India,’ the panel said in a statement.

POSCO, one of the world’s biggest steel makers, signed a deal with the Orissa government in June 2005 to set up the project near the port town of Paradip in Jagatsinghpur, some 100 km from here, by 2016.

Thousands of villagers have been opposing the project, saying it will displace them from their homeland and ruin their betel-leaf farms. POSCO and the government maintain the project will bring prosperity and employment to an impoverished region.

The trouble erupted when police baton-charged and fired rubber bullets on hundreds of protesters May 15 after they refused to vacate a road at Balitutha, the entry point to the proposed site.

The road was blocked since Jan 26 to prevent the entry of government and company officials into the area.

Police said at least nine people, including six policemen, were injured in the clash. The fact-finding team which visited the region Monday and Tuesday said over 100 people were injured in the police action, five of them critically.

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