Police fire on crowds: dozens dead and injured

25 2007

Police fire on crowds: dozens dead and injured

Nandigram farmers oppose land requisitions for industrial plants. The government accuses subversive groups, but the opposition calls for strike protests

Nirmala Carvalho

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New Delhi on Ladysilvia; Thousands of police and government supporters occupied the contested land in Nandigram, 150 km. south of Calcutta in western Bengal, after a massacre which cost the lives of 14 people.The clashes exploded after the government officials and police tried to enter the area, where for over two months the farmers have been staging a sit-in, blocking roads and tearing down bridges united under the banner of the Bhumi Uchched Pratirodh (Committee to Prevent Farmland Acquisition). The police claim they were merely “reacting” to farmer aggressions, armed with scythes. Over 14 people were killed and at least 45 injured. West Bengal PWD Minister Kshiti Goswami, who represents the Left Front constituent Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), described it as “a black day in the 30-year rule of the Left in West Bengal. It is unfortunate and harrowing”. In Nandigram , thousands of farmers sang religious songs and many Muslims - the majority religious community in the area - read verses from the Koran to protest at the police shooting. Hours after officials in Kolkata refused to admit if anyone was killed, West Bengal Chief Secretary Amit Kiran Deb told reporters that the police firing had claimed 11 lives.

Another official said 14 people were killed. But Islamic leader, Abdus Samad, says that “tens are missing” and he fears that they “have been killed”. Director General of Police Anup Bhusan Bhora said: "We went there to only restore law and order," and put the number of injured at 39, including 14 policemen. Bhora said 20 people were arrested during the operation, which triggered angry reactions all over West Bengal. In New Delhi the Communist Party’s central committee said “It is regrettable that lives have been lost in police firing. But the organised elements who utilized bombs and pipe guns on the police have to take the blame”.

Meanwhile protests are on the increase. The Trinamul Congress, the majority opposition party, has proclaimed protest strikes against the killings for tomorrow. In 2006 the communist government requisitioned over 14 thousand hectares of farmland for the creation of a Special Economic Zone (Sez), attracting foreign interest through tax relief. Indonesian based Salim Group wants to build a chemical plant. But the farmers are in opposition to the plan; - because " they say " the land feeds their children, while public compensation will soon dry up. The communist party which has been in power for over 30 years has its power base in rural farming communities, in favour of whom it carried out a series of agricultural reforms.

Now these same communities will not accept the governm ent “taking over” their land. In a January protest 6 farmers and a policeman were killed. Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya had then declared that the government had no intention of setting up any industry in the area without consulting people. But this time the police intervened. Major industrial projects in Orissa have also been stalled by protesting farmers unwilling to give up their land. Among them figures a high-profile $12 billion plant by South Korean steelmaker POSCO Co. Ltd., which would be India's largest foreign investment Last week in the area there were a series of clashes between government officials and the local population, with at least 50 injured. (“AsiaNews”)

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