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Vaiko, other held as protesters try to besiege Sterlite plant

March 29, 2013

The Times of India

TUTICORIN: Protests against Sterlite Industries gathered momentum on Thursday, as large number of people attempted to besiege the plant in the wake of a suspected gas leak in the coastal Tuticorin town few days back.

More than 1,200 people including MDMK leader Vaiko, CPI leader Nallakannu, traders and fishermen were arrested for staging a massive protest demanding closure of Sterlite's copper smelting unit. Shops downed shutters and fishermen kept off sea in an expression of solidarity to the ongoing series of protests. Vaiko as well as other protesters demanded the Centre to immediately shut the plant as a case is pending in the Supreme Court seeking closure of the unit. Vaiko said the protests would continue until their demand was met. However, authorities in Sterlite have refuted the charges of gas leak from the plant.

On March 23, residents close to the plant woke up to suffocation, itching and sore throat. The cause of the trouble was detected as mixing of sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere. Soon, the residents started levelling charges that Sterlite was behind the gas leak and staged protests. An employee of Sterlite died on March 25 in a hospital. Though the autopsy reports said that he died due to haemorrhage and hypertension, the death aggravated the protests. The district collector, Ashish Kumar, swung into action and issued a show cause notice to Sterlite seeking explanation for the gas leak, only to prompt a swift denial from the authorities.

But the undeterred protesters had announced that they would besiege the plant on Thursday led by MDMK leader Vaiko. As announced, the protesters gathered at Rajaji Park and started marching towards Sterlite when the police intercepted and arrested them.

The police action took an ugly turn when police allegedly snapped the wire of the OB (outdoor broadcast) van belonging to a Tamil satellite channel, that was broadcasting the protest live. A heated argument broke out between the police and journalists. Soon the journalists jumped into a protest condemning the police action. "It is completely false," said Rajendran refuting the allegation. Journalists in Tirunelveli and Madurai too staged a protest condemning the police.

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