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Tension over land acquisition at Posco site, protesters clash with police

Tension over land acquisition at Posco site, protesters clash with police
Paradip:  After being halted for more than a year, land acquisition for the showpiece Rs 52,000-crore Posco steel plant in Odisha resumed today amid clashes between police and protesters.

The acquisition process for the South Korean steel major's mega project amid tight security in Jagatsinghpur district was marked by claims and counter-claims on the violence following allegations of police crackdown on project opponents and injuries to some villagers due to lathicharge.

"Land acquisition process began in Gobindpur village in the proposed project site near Paradip. It will continue till all betel vineyards of the cultivators willing to hand over their land is completed," District Collector SK Mallick said.

Betel-vines and land of only those who had already given their consent are being acquired, Additional District Magistrate Surjit Das said.

Anti-Posco protesters indulged in stone throwing, damaging at least five vehicles of the police and administration, sources said, adding police sealed all the entry points to Gobindapur.

They also sealed the Gobindapur-Dhinkia road. Protesters from nearby areas like Ersama, Kujang and Jagatsinghpur were gathering in order to chalk out their strategy.

Leaders of Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), agitating against the project since 2005, alleged that police launched a crackdown on villagers trying to resist entry of acquisition team into Gobindpur injuring about six people in lathicharge. Mr Das, however, refuted the charge saying no force was used.

Mr Das said the work progressed peacefully and claimed no one was hurt in the incident.

Around 400 police personnel were deployed in the area where anti-Posco activists had been sitting on dharana at Balitikira of Gobindapur for the last 20 days.

As the police personnel cordoned the area, demolition of betel-vines and tree felling was undertaken at Mathsahi locality of Gobindapur. Officials of Odisha's Industrial Infrastructure Corporation (IDCO) and Posco-India were present in the area during the work.

The operation was initially resisted by several anti-Posco agitators who tried to block the acquisition team and police from entering into the village. The protesters were chased away after a brief scuffle, sources said.

PPSS leader Abhay Sahu alleged that some villagers were also detained by the police.

The fresh operation is aimed at acquiring an additional 700 acres of land required for Posco's mega project, the ADM said, adding the administration had earlier taken into possession 2,000 acres.

Land acquisition work had been halted more than a year ago following violence during construction of a coastal road near proposed project site in December, 2011 and formation of human chains by women and children in the area.

Six teams were engaged in the exercise and altogether 22 betel-vines were demolished and about 45 trees cut, the ADM said, adding payment was made immediately.

Accusing the administration of forcibly acquiring land and demolishing betel-vines, CPI leader and MP Bibhu Prasad Tarai, his supporters and other anti-Posco activists staged a dharna at nearby Patna Chhak.

Demanding withdrawal of police force from the area, Tarai said since the villagers are protesting in a peaceful manner there is no need to deploy force.

Meanwhile, CPI workers also staged a demonstration in Bhubaneswar in protest against police deployment in proposed Posco area near Paradip. They demanded immediate withdrawal of police force.

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