TOWER HILL, LONDON: Expatriate Bangladeshis backed by a global coalition of protestors staged a massive demonstration here Monday in support of the Phulbari movement against the UK-based Asia Energy’s bid for open-pit coalmining in northern Bangladesh.
The orchestrated protests took place while Global Coal Resources Plc (GCM), previously known as Asia Energy, was holding annual general meeting (AGM) at Tower Hill at about 10:30am (GMT) Monday.
Organizers said the demo was organized to put apprise the shareholders and investors in the UK-based financier of their stance against the open-pit method of mining at Phulbari Coalmine in Bangladesh’s Dinajpur district.
In the wake of the protests, sources said, the share prices of GCM took a downturn on the London Stock Exchange.
The protesters hoped that the shareholders of the GCM would withdraw their investments from the company after the protest.
Protect Resources of Bangladesh based in the UK, in association with Bangladesh National Committee to Protect Oil-Gas-Mineral Resources (BNCPOGMR), Britain Socialist Party (BSP) and London Mining Network (LMN), organized the showdown.
Mines and Communities, UK (MCUK), World Development Movement (WDM) and London Platform and International Accountability Project USA (LPIAPUSA) extended their support to the protest programme.
Samina Lutfa, Associate Professor of Dhaka University and also a researcher at Oxford University on open-pit mining, delivered the introductory speech to kick up the dust.
She said, “Local people are fully aware of the adverse impacts of open-pit mining. They are determined to prevent GCM’s fresh attempt by any means.”
Secretary of the British Socialist Party, East London unit, Mannie Thaine said, “My party will always stand beside the movement.”
Among others, Dr. Akhter Sobhan Mashrur of the Workers Party of Bangladesh, Syed Enam and Golam Mostafa of the Communist Party of Bangladesh and Shahriar of Juba Union addressed the gathering.
Coordinator of London Mining Network Richard Sally, Director of Refugee Research Council Paul Dudman and Convenor of Committee to Protect Oil-Gas-Mineral Resources and Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra artiste Mahmudur Rahman Benu were present.
Braving severe wintry cold of December, the demonstrators gathered in front of DLR station at Tower Hill before the scheduled time.
Security personnel closed the main gate of the building as the demonstrators started marching towards the AGM place with their peaceful procession, witnesses said.
The protesters then took position in front of the gate and laid a siege for an hour and held a rally.
The squatters chanted slogans like “Blockade GCM”, “Shame on GCM” when some shareholders tried to get in to the meeting place with the help of the security personnel.
Richard Sally said, “Today I am present here to extend the support of London Mining Network to the movement of the Bangladesh people. Aggressive and attacking tendency of GCM and their shareholders is a new experience for me.”
At the fag-end of the protest rally, a GCM shareholder locked into an altercation with the protesters when Rumana Hashem, a researcher and part-time teacher of East London University, was reading out a written statement.
He later retreated as the agitated people moved towards him, saying: “killer”, “Burglar”, “Bloodsucker”.
The UK-based Global Coal Resources Plc (GCM) is making fresh attempts to move forward with its plans to build an open-cast coalmine at Phulbari in northern district of Dinajpur in Bangladesh.
This project would displace up to 120,000 people, including indigenous households and, according to opponents of the scheme, destroy a vital food-producing region in a country with widespread hunger.
The protestors apprehend that the planned open-pit mining would reduce access to water for tens of thousands of people, and contribute to global warming by generating massive greenhouse gases for years to come.
There has been strong opposition to this project within Bangladesh. In August of 2006, as many as 70,000 people gathered in Phulbari to protest the project. Paramilitary forces opened fire on the unarmed demonstrators, killing three people, including a 14-year-old boy, and injuring over 200.
In October this year, opponents of the mine organized a 7-day march from Dhaka to Phulbari - a journey of 250 miles. It included dozens of rallies. Organizers estimate that over 100,000 people attended the final rally in Phulbari.
The Bangladesh government is yet to decide who it will award the tender, and has been talking to other companies.
BDST: 1220 HRS, DEC 08, 2010
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