Bangladesh uses tear gas, water cannon to break up power plant protest

A protester attempts to kick a tear gas canister fired by policemen during a protest against the Rampal coal-fired power plant, near Shahbag, Dhaka, Bangladesh on Jan 26, 2017.
A protester attempts to kick a tear gas canister fired by policemen during a protest against the Rampal coal-fired power plant, near Shahbag, Dhaka, Bangladesh on Jan 26, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

DHAKA (Reuters) - Police in Bangladesh on Thursday (Jan 26) used tear gas and water cannons to disperse demonstrators protesting against a coal-fired power plant they say will damage ecologically sensitive mangrove forest and disrupt the lives of thousands.

Unesco last year sought the relocation of the 1,320-megawatt power plant from the 742-hectare site where it is being built, saying it posed a risk to the nearby Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest and a World Heritage site.

"We used tear gas and water cannon after the protesters threw bricks at us," Maruf Hossain Sardar, deputy commissioner of police in the capital, Dhaka, told Reuters.

Police said about 200 protesters took to the streets in the center of Dhaka, while campaigners said more than 50 activists were injured in clashes.

Campaigners said the plant, a joint venture between state-run entities Bangladesh Power Development Board and India's NTPC Ltd., would disrupt the livelihoods of about half a million people and make millions more vulnerable to natural disasters.

"This is a suicidal project," said Anu Mohammad of activist group the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, which called for an eight-hour general strike in Dhaka on Thursday.

"This will have a devastating and irreversible impact on the Sundarbans, its ecology and biodiversity."

There was no major disruption to daily life in the city, however.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has defended the project, saying all concerns related to the plant had been addressed.

The government has indicated it is unlikely to abandon a push to build more coal-fired power plants, despite growing opposition from residents and environmentalists.

Mohammad Anwarul Azim, a spokesman for the joint venture, the Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Co., said the plant would use new technology to reduce its impact on the environment.