KOCHI, India, November 28 (Reuters) – More than 80 people were injured in southern India when villagers halting construction of a $900 million port clashed with police, the latest escalation of a months-long protest by a mostly Christian community Fishing community vs Asia richest man.
The protests are a major headache for Gautam Adani’s $23 billion ports and logistics company, which has been forced to halt work on the Vizhinjam seaport that appears to be winning business from competitors in Dubai, Singapore and Sri Lanka.
However, construction was halted for more than three months after villagers blocked the site’s entrance, blaming the port for coastal erosion and depriving them of their livelihood.
Over the weekend, police arrested several protesters after blocking the entry of Adani’s construction vehicles into the port, despite a court order for work to resume.
The arrests prompted hundreds of protesters, led by Roman Catholic priests, to march to the police station, clashing with personnel and damaging vehicles there, police documents and local television footage show.
Senior local police officer MR Ajith Kumar told Reuters 36 officers were injured in the clashes. Joseph Johnson, one of the protest leaders, said at least 46 protesters were also injured.
Located on the southern tip of India, the port is trying to hook into lucrative east-west trade routes and expand the global reach of the company run by billionaire Adani, ranked by Forbes as the third richest man in the world.
When asked about the latest protest, the Adani group did not immediately comment. The company said the port complies with all laws, citing studies showing it is not linked to coastal erosion. The state government has also stated that any erosion is due to natural causes.
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Protests have continued despite repeated orders from the Kerala State Supreme Court to allow construction to begin. For the most part, the police were unwilling to take action, fearing it could spark social and religious tensions.
In recent clashes, police documents said protesters “came armed with deadly weapons and stormed into the station, holding police hostage and threatening that they would set the station on fire if the detainees were not released.” Eugine H. Pereira, archdiocese vicar general and leader of the protests, said police threw stones at the protesters.
The port protests are a reminder of the backlash Adani faced in Australia over its Carmichael coal mine. There, activists concerned about carbon emissions and damage to the Great Barrier Reef forced Adani to scale back production targets and delayed the mine’s first coal shipment by six years.
Writing by Aditya Kalra; Edited by Clarence Fernandez and Miral Fahmy
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