Finally breaking his silence on the violence that hit the state’s Thoothukudi district, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E Palaniswami today lashed out at the opposition parties for fueling the protests that have so far claimed 13 lives in the last 72 hours. Thoothukudi is in the grip of violence for the past three days after angry protesters seeking closure of the Sterlite Copper unit clashed with police.
Speaking to reporters, CM Palaniswami said that the opposition is only interested in politicising the incident and was shying away from talks. He also termed the dharna staged by DMK working president MK Stalin outside the CM’s office in state Secretariat as a ‘drama’.
Justifying the police action against the protesters, Palaniswami said that the government was forced to impose prohibitory order in Tuticorin where locals have been protesting for over three months against the expansion of Sterlite Copper factory. The CM said that the violence was an outcome of the vested interest of certain political parties and NGOs.
“The entire episode which happened was primarily because of certain political parties, NGOs and anti-social elements, who took protestors to a wrong path,” the CM said as he attempted to justify the police action. the police, he said, “were forced to open fire”. He said that the protestors had first clashed with the police, prompting them to retaliate. “If someone is attacked, the natural course would be to defend and safeguard themselves. This is what has been done by the police in response.”
The CM’s remarks come immediately after Stalin was briefly detained by police for protesting outside the Secretariat. Opposition parties are demanding CM Palaniswami’s ouster over failure to check law and order situation in Tuticorin where 13 people have lost their lives in police firing during anti-Sterlite protest.
Meanwhile, Home Minister Rajnath Singh has expressed deep anguish over the loss of lives in Tamil Nadu. He said that the MHA has taken cognisance of the incident and sought a detailed report from the state government. He also appealed to the people of Tuticorin to remain calm and maintain peace. “I am deeply pained at the loss of precious lives during the agitation at Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu. My thoughts are with bereaved families. I also pray for the speedy recovery of the injured. I appeal to the people in Tuticorin to remain calm and maintain peace and tranquility in the region,” he said in a statement here.
On Tuesday, thousands of protesters who had been agitiating against the company’s plans to expand their copper unit in the town, took to the streets. The peotest took a violent turn when around 20,000 violated the prohibitory order and started marching to the district collector’s office. It was then the police had to resort to lathi-charge and open fire to control the unruly crowd.
As tensions gripped the state with political leaders swooping down on the city, videos of police beating and firing upon supporters only made matters worse. Footage of policemen dressed in plain clothes taking aim and firing at protesters was seen as an attempt to kill and stoked anger further. The state government jumped to damage control and asked people not to pay heed to rumours doing rounds on social media.