Four killed in protest at Bangladesh coal project

Four killed in protest at Bangladesh coal project

Saturday, August 26th 2006

At least four people were killed and 100 injured when police opened fire on thousands of Bangladeshis trying to storm an office of British coal miner Asia Energy Plc on Saturday, witnesses said.

They were protesting against an open pit coal mine project Asian Energy is planning at Phulbari in Dinajpur district, in the country’s northwest.

Police fired hundreds of shots and nearly 50 teargas shells to disperse the angry crowds, the witnesses said.

“It was hell of a scene with hundreds of gun-shooting police confronting nearly 20,000 protesters in the hours of battle,” one witness told Reuters by telephone.

The protesters, who are backed by various rights groups, say the project would displace hundreds of families and cause serious damage to the environment.

They demanded the Asia Energy office at Phulbari be closed immediately.

When police failed to scare off the protesters, they called in paramilitary troops as reinforcements, district officials told reporters. The protesters came from all over Dinajpur and nearby districts, they said.

Asia Energy said it had submitted a scheme of development and a feasibility study for the Phulbari mine and was awaiting final government authorisation to start mining.

Gary Lye, CEO of Asia Energy Corporation (Bangladesh) Pty Ltd, denied on Saturday the Phulbari project would harm people or the environment.

“Asia Energy would like to reiterate that it has been operating lawfully in Phulbari for several years in accordance with a legally binding contract with the government of Bangladesh,” he said in a statement.

“Our Phulbari coal project is an open and transparent business that will bring far-reaching benefits to both the local community and the people of Bangladesh.”

Production at the Phulbari project will peak at 15 million tonnes per annum. Asia Energy will also double the capacity of a 500 megawatt coal-fired power plant.

Asia Energy intends to spend $3 billion in capital on the mine and power plant, and $10.4 billion in operating costs over 30 years.

The first mined coal is planned by 2008 with annual production increasing rapidly to 15 million tonnes by 2013.

Copyright © 2005 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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