Protests against Jaitapur nuclear plant turn violent

MUMBAI Tue Apr 19, 2011 5:41pm IST

A policeman stands at a kiosk at the proposed site of the Jaitapur nuclear plant in Ratnagiri district, about 360 km (224 miles) south of Mumbai, April 13, 2011. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

A policeman stands at a kiosk at the proposed site of the Jaitapur nuclear plant in Ratnagiri district, about 360 km (224 miles) south of Mumbai, April 13, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

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MUMBAI (Reuters) - People protesting against a planned nuclear power plant in Jaitapur attacked a hospital and torched buses on Tuesday and at least 20 people were injured a day after an anti-nuclear activist was killed in police firing.

Protests led by opposition politicians shut down towns near the site of the $10 billion plant in Maharashtra where anger over land acquisitions has intensified after the nuclear crisis in Japan.

"The situation is very tense out here," protester leader Amjad Abdul Latif Borkar told Reuters.

Five demonstrators were taken to hospital with bullet wounds, and at least six policemen were injured, the administration head in the town of Ratnagiri told Reuters.

Chief of police in the town, 60km (38 miles) north of the site of the planned plant at Jaitapur, said at least 20 people had been injured.

Protesters attacked and damaged a hospital to prevent a government autopsy on the activist killed on Monday. Protesters think the autopsy will not be impartial.

Police wielding wooden sticks tried to disperse the protesters who set fire to tyres to block a road to the site of the planned 9,900 megawatt (MW) plant, television pictures showed.

The small Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena opposition party called for a strike in support of the demonstrations.

Last week, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh restated the government's intention to go ahead with construction of six reactors at the site in what is touted as the world's largest nuclear power complex.

The conflict is one of many battles across the country between villagers and planners of industrial projects that have sharpened the debate on how Asia's third largest economy sustains its economic boom.

The plant site, which is flanked by several small fishing hamlets, is 300 km (185 miles) south of Mumbai.

Protesters stormed a police station near the site on Monday, smashing computers and ripping up papers, television pictures showed.

Environment Minister Ramesh said the government's opponents were whipping up opposition and India had no option but nuclear power.

"They have just made this a political issue," he told the Times Now news channel, referring to the Shiv Sena party.

"I have said it before and say it again, apart from nuclear energy we have no other choice."

Opponents of the plant have put up posters in Jaitapur depicting scenes of last month's devastation at Japan's Fukushima plant and warn of what could be in store for the region in the Western Ghats north of Goa.

India suffers from a peak-hour power deficit of about 12 percent that acts as a brake on an economy growing at nearly 9 percent and causes blackouts in much of the country. About 40 percent of Indians, or 500 million people, lack electricity.

India operates 20 mostly small nuclear reactors at six sites with a capacity of 4,780 MW, or 3 percent of total power capacity. It hopes to lift its nuclear capacity to 7,280 MW by next year, more than 20,000 MW by 2020 and 63,000 MW by 2032 by adding nearly 30 reactors.

(Writing and additional reporting by Henry Foy; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Robert Birsel)

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