Bangladesh: 20,000 protesters march against British mining company

5 killed, 50 injured security force shootings

Thousands of angry protestors torching buildings linked to a British coal mining firm in northern Bangladesh, last Monday morning. This follows the fatal shooting of at least five people protesting against an open-pit mine in the region. The demonstrators set fire to the house of an official employed by the London-based ‘Asia Energy PLC’, which is developing a coal deposit north of the capital and plans to invest $1.4 billion in the project. The angry crowds also set fire to four other buildings in the town of Phulbari, 350 kilometers north of Dhaka.

The company’s information centre and the temporary residence of one of its geologists were ransacked, and furniture was dragged outside and set alight. The local police chief, Fazlul Haq, described the situation: “The protesters have completely gone out of control. They set fire to one Asia Energy official’s residence in the Phulbari town. It is complete chaos out there. The mob is raiding homes of people who had earlier collaborated with the company. They were around 20,000 marching on the main roads and there were only 300 securities personal to guard at the company offices”.

The people of this area have been protesting against the open-pit mine project because nearly 100,000 people will be displaced and many local communities will wiped out as the result of this project. The whole environment in this area will be damaged. The organizer of the protests, Khurshid Ali Moti, said: “Our protest campaign will continue for an indefinite period until the company packs up and leaves the place for good. We will no allow any thing that will make our villages a complete wasteland. They want to rob us; they want our land for nothing. They have killed our brothers. They will have to leave the area or they face the consequences”.

The five deaths sparked widespread anger amongst the local communities. Paramilitary forces, called ‘Bangladesh Rifles’, opened fire at the demonstrators. 50 people were injured, 10 critically, last Saturday.

One protestor said: “The government has no respect for us, so we also have no respect for the government and their foreign friends. This is not ordinary struggle, but it’s a life and death question for us”.

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September 2006