Hundreds defy ban on gathering in Phulbari
General strike in Phulbari todayOur Correspondent . Phulbari
Several thousand people on Friday took to the streets at Phulbari in Dinajpur defying a ban the administration imposed on gathering and called a dawn-to-dusk general strike in the upazila for today.
The national committee to protect oil, gas, mineral resources, power and ports was scheduled to hold a public meeting in the place on Friday afternoon protesting at a government order for the administration to help Asia Energy to conduct surveys and demanding the implementation of the Phulbari treaty singed in 2006.
The local administration banned rallies, processions and carrying firearms by ordering Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in the upazila between 3:00pm and midnight past Friday. The administration announced the ban about 11:00am when the people were making preparations for the public meeting.
The committee’s member secretary Anu Muhammad announced the dawn-to-dusk general strike in the upazila for today in protest at the ban on rallies. He announced the general strike at a rally in the Nimtali crossing of the town defying the bank the administration earlier in the day imposed on gathering.
He also said that the committee would go for further action programmes if the government did not withdraw the home ministry order that asked law enforcers and the administration to help Asia Energy to conduct surveys in the upazila.
The mayor of Phulbari Manik Sarkar, also leader of local professional bodies, at another programme called general strike in the upazila until the government withdrew the order and implemented the Phulbari deal signed in 2006.
Immediately after the announcement of the ban on rallies, several hundred law enforcers stood guard at the rally venue and asked the organisers to leave the place but as they refused to do so, the police cordoned them off and allowed none others to gather in the place.
The local administration, led by the upazila nirbahi officer, M Moniruzzman, and the assistant commissioner (land), Kamal M Rashed, also stopped processions headed for the venue from the the marketplace in the town.
The deployment of police panicked the people in the area. Traders started shutting their business establishments.
In the afternoon, the national committee at an impromptu news conference at the rally venue called the general strike in the upazila for today and announced demonstrations in Dhaka and elsewhere in the country on November 28.
Anu Mohammad at the news conference said that they would hold protests all over the country on November 28. ‘If the government does not cancel the letter of the home ministry, we will plan stern programmes such as countrywide general strike.’
Several thousand people about 5:00pm marched towards the venue defying the ban and breaking through the police barricades. Vehicles did not ply between the upazila and Dhaka on the Dhaka-Dinajpur Highway.
About the same time, another large procession, led the municipal mayor Manik, carrying sticks marched towards the town. The procession later joined the rally where Manik extended solidarity with the national committee programmes.
A senior assistant secretary of the home ministry, Mohammed Faruq-uz-Zaman, in the letter dated October 14, 2012 asked the local administration to help Asia Energy, which holds an exploration licence and mining lease for exploration of mineral resources in Nababganj, Parbatipur, Birampur and Phulbari, to conduct surveys in view of developing a coal mine.
The letter directed local authorities to help in the surveys citing that Asia Energy can conduct pre-technical evaluation, planning and other activities of the project analysis under the existing mining rules and licence although it was yet to be have the approval for mineral resources extraction. The letter also said that employees of the company would carry out the survey spanning two years.
The Workers Party of Bangladesh president, Rashed Khan Menon, and the general secretary, Anisur Rahman Mallik, in statement condemned the ban on gathering at Phulbari.
The leaders said that the Phulbari rally was aimed at mobilising people to protect natural resources and stop open-pit coal mining.
People of Phulbari on August 6, 2006 went on demonstrations against plans for open-pit coal mining at Phulbari by multinational company Asia Energy and the police fired into the protests in which three villagers were killed and more than a hundred were injured.
On August 30, 2006, the BNP-led government of the time signed a six-point Phulbari agreement with the protesters to contain the movement. The clauses include banning open-pit mining anywhere in Bangladesh and expelling Asia Energy from Bangladesh.
The then leader of the opposition, Sheikh Hasina, now the prime minister, visited the place and extended her solidarity with the demands of the Phulbari people. She then demanded a full implementation of the agreement.
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