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Indian villagers burn Dow Chemical building site

MUMBAI, July 25 (Reuters) - About 100 people worried about industrial pollution set fire to a construction site of a local unit of Dow Chemical Co in western India on Friday, police and a Dow official said.

The company is setting up a research and development centre with an initial investment of 4 billion rupees ($90 million) near Shinde village, about 200 km (120 miles) from Mumbai.

Dow Chemical Co is the largest U.S. chemical maker.

For many Indians, Dow is synonymous with the catastrophic industrial accident in Bhopal in central India in 1984, when tonnes of toxic gas leaked from a pesticide plant owned at the time by Union Carbide.

Nearly 3,800 people died soon after exposure to the gas, while tens of thousands more people were made sick. Union Carbide later became a subsidiary of Dow. There is still argument over who should clean up the site, which remains polluted.

Intruders broke into the construction site at around 8.30 a.m. and set an office and two vehicles on fire, said Ravindra Kadam, a superintendent of police in the area. No one was injured. Four people have been arrested.

“It was an act of vandalism,” said Nandu Sanglikar, a spokesman for Dow India. The extent of the damage was being assessed.

He said some of the intruders were villagers, some of whom were convinced the centre would pollute the area’s soil and water, while others were activists from outside the area.

Dow says the new research centre will open in 2008 and house 500 scientists by 2010, looking into energy conservation, water purification and pharmaceuticals.

Sanglikar said the villagers’ pollution fears were unfounded and the site would have “zero liquid discharge”. (Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav and Jonathan Allen; Editing by Alistair Scrutton)

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