At least nine protesters were killed Tuesday in clashes with authorities in southern India over a copper smelter that residents argue is causing environmental damage.
The demonstrations by local residents and activists have been underway for several months at the Sterlite Copper smelting plant in the port city of Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu state.
Protesters have accused the plant, owned by London-based mining giant Vedanta Resources, of polluting groundwater and causing damage to the environment. Vedanta says it adheres to environmental standards and is the subject of “false propaganda,” news agency AFP reported.
The demonstration escalated after protesters stormed and torched the office of a local administrator who had refused to allow them to hold a rally at the plant, said AFP.
Rahul Gandhi, leader of the opposition Indian National Congress party, said the protesters were “gunned down by the police,” before criticizing the police action as “state sponsored terrorism” on his Twitter account.
A police officer told AFP that attempts by security forces to disperse the 5,000-strong crowd with baton charges and tear gas were to no avail before they opened fire with live ammunition.
Following the incident, Edappadi K. Palaniswami, Tamil Nadu chief minister, ordered an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the shooting but stood by the security force’s actions.
“The police had to take action under unavoidable circumstances to protect public life and property as the protesters resorted to repeated violence… police had to control the violence,” he said in a statement reported by AFP.
CNN’s Omar Khan reported from New Delhi while Lauren Said-Moorhouse wrote from London.