Thoothukudi Sterlite protest: At least 11 dead after police opened fire against protesters 

Unofficial estimates put the figure at 50,000 against 2,500 police personnel who had been deployed at various junctions in the city to thwart the protesters' plan to besiege the district collectorate.

Published: 23rd May 2018 01:13 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd May 2018 02:58 AM   |  A+A-

An eyewitness alleged that police did not fire warning shots and aimed at chest level. (Photo | EPS)

Express News Service

THOOTHUKUDI: At least 11 people, including two women and a teenager, were killed and 20 others grievously injured after police reportedly opened fire multiple times against anti-Sterlite protesters in Thoothukudi on Tuesday, the 100th day of protests demanding the Sterlite Copper plant in the district be shut. Another 100 people are believed injured during clashes between police and protesters, with official estimates claiming that 20,000 people took to the streets.

Unofficial estimates put the figure at 50,000 against 2,500 police personnel who had been deployed at various junctions in the city to thwart the protesters' plan to besiege the district collectorate. 

Police placed barricades and resorted to to mild lathi-charge to confine the protesters to their localities. However, in the backdrop of overwhelming support for the stir, thousands of Thoothukudi residents joined the rally for a distance of 6km between the town and Collectorate, and police were unable to control them. 

At FCI godown junction, 700m from the Collectorate, the police fired tear gas in a futile attempt to disperse the crowd. Thoothukudi SP P Mahendran, Tirunelveli SP Arun Sakthikumar, Tirunelveli DIG Kapil Kumar Saratkar were present. Still, determined protesters crossed police barricades and continued to march to Collectorate on the Thoothukudi-Tirunelveli national highway.

By 11am, the crowd had reached the Collectorate and started hurling stones at police personnel preventing their entry. Police opened fire once the crowd breached the collectorate premises and reached the verandah.

According to sources, as many as 12 persons sustained bullet injuries, and over 20 sustained grievous injuries as protesters ran helter-skelter. An eyewitness alleged that police did not fire warning shots and aimed at chest level. With protesters occupying the highways, some rushed the injured to the Thoothukudi General Hospital and a nearby private hospital on motorbikes. Meanwhile, the crowd turned violent, damaging over 25 two-wheelers and at least three government jeeps. Protesters lit rubber tyres and rolled them towards the police, sources said. 

As news of the police firing spread, mobs ravaged the nearby District Industrial Centre (DIC) and the Sterlite Copper staff quarters, torching vehicles at both locations. They also started toppling police vehicles at bypass, P&T colony and other areas.

Near FCI godown, a group of protesters allegedly assaulted police personnel while women police were reportedly targeted at Third Mile. The clashes reportedly left one policeman dead and two others seriously injured, however there was no official confirmation. Mediapersons were also assaulted by protesters, who damaged video and still cameras. At least five journalists were injured.

At around 12.45 pm, police opened fire on the bypass near the Collectorate after a mob pelted stones at a police bus ferrying at least 20 police personnel. Police again reportedly opened fire on protesters at Threspuram, near the SP's bungalow, killing at least two persons.

Some persons sustained injuries after police opened fire outside the Thoothukudi Medical College Hospital, which relatives of deceased were reportedly prevented from entering, on Palayamkottai road at close to 3pm. Tension continued to prevail in Thoothukudi even as protests were seen in nearby Tirunelveli and Madurai districts as well. Neither Thoothukudi collector nor the SP addressed media. Additional police forces have been moved in from nearby districts.

According to police sources, those killed in police firing are P Thamilarasan (35) of Revolutionary Students and Youth Front (RYSF), Shanmugam (25) of Teachers colony, K Glaston (40) of Lourdhammalpuram, K Kathaiya (55) of Ceylone colony, S Maniraj (34) of Dhamodramnagar, Venista (16), Anthoni Selvaraj (35) and Jayaram (62) of Usilampatti, Karthik (22) of Cardwell Colony and Vineetha of Threspuram. One of the dead, a woman, is yet to be identified. 

The Tamil Nadu DGP's office issued a late night media release on Tuesday, stating that protesters continued to indulge in violence even after police issued warnings, fired tear gas and resorted to lathi charge. "With no other option and to protect public property, police had to open fire.... Adequate police personnel have been posted in the spot and calm prevails. Public are requested to cooperate," the statement said.  


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