India: Copper smelter closed after 13 die in anti-pollution protests
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India: Copper smelter closed after 13 die in anti-pollution protests

THE power has been switched off to a large copper smelter in southern India after police shot and killed 13 people protesting against the pollution generated by the plant.

Police used live ammunition to disperse protesters in Tuticorin city in Tamil Nadu state this week, provoking international outrage and demands for an immediate investigation.

The protests were the culmination of months of concern the copper smelting plant, owned by British mining giant Vedanta Resources, was polluting the water and air in the city. The owners deny this claim and have been seeking to renew the license of the temporarily non-operational plant with hopes to double its production capacity.

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Cars and buildings were set ablaze and rocks hurled at police during Tuesday’s protests. The police responded with live fire, killing 11 demonstrators and injuring many others, including 20 police.

Another protester died Wednesday when he was struck by rubber bullets in a second day of protests. The thirteenth victim died on Thursday, two days after being injured.

2018-05-23T113815Z_1495058278_RC192B3347E0_RTRMADP_3_VEDANTA-SMELTER

Indian actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan speaks to family members of a man who was injured while protesting against the construction of a copper smelter by Vedanta Resources from the road, in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, India in this still image from May 23, 2018 video footage. Source: ANI via Reuters

The chief minister of Tamil Nadu has ordered an inquiry into the heavy-handed approach but defended the actions of police, which the state’s opposition leader called “mass murder.”

“The police have a duty during protests to maintain law and order, but lethal force can only be used if there is an imminent threat to life,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said.

“Tamil Nadu authorities need to carry out a prompt and credible investigation to determine if police used excessive force.”

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On Thursday, the pollution control board of Tamil Nadu put an end to any hopes of reopening the plant after finding the plant to be carrying out activity to resume production without permission.

“The issue of renewal of consent for the year 2018-2023 has been rejected … due to non-compliance of certain conditions,” the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board said in an order dated Wednesday.

It did not elaborate on the conditions the smelter had not met but said it “shall be disconnected with power supply and closed with immediate effect.”

The agency told Vedanta it could not resume operations without permission.

Additional reporting by AFP and Reuters.

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