DHAKA (Reuters) - A Bangladeshi company has suspended work on a planned Chinese-backed coal-fired power plant after four demonstrators opposing its construction were killed earlier this week, a senior company official said on Thursday.
Villagers for and against the power plant clashed on Monday before riot police fired their weapons after coming under attack. Three protesters died that day and a fourth died later in the hospital.
S Alam Group, a Bangladeshi conglomerate responsible for building construction at the site, has halted the work because of safety concerns, said the official.
“The development work is suspended for now and hopefully the situation will be improved soon to start our work again,” he said, asking not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The $2.4-billion, 1,320-megawatt project in the coastal district of Chittagong would help Bangladesh end electricity shortages. The plant, located 265 km (165 miles) southeast of the capital Dhaka, is a major source of foreign investment into Bangladesh, and one of a series of plans Beijing is pushing to cultivate closer ties with Dhaka.
China’s SEPCOIII Electric Power Construction Corp, which signed a deal to build the plant with S Alam on Monday, wants the government to intervene to end the violence before it restarts work, the S Alam official said.
“They wanted to know how many days will it take to settle the issue and how it will be solved,” he said.
A leading protester told Reuters on Thursday that he had given the government a deadline of Friday to cancel the plant or opponents would continue their demonstrations.
“If necessary, the people will sacrifice their lives to save their forefathers home and land,” Liakot Ali said.
The protesters say villagers around the project will lose their homes and it will disturb the graveyards of relatives as well as cause environmental damage.
The plant aims to produce electricity by 2019 but it might miss the target, Ajharul Islam, chief engineer of the state-run Bangladesh Power Development Board in Chittagong said.
S Alam project coordinator Bahadur Alam said 360 acres (146 hectares) of land has been purchased for the project. He said the site lies in an isolated area and accused protest leaders of provoking neighboring communities after their demand for money was rejected.
Liakot Ali denied demanding any money from S Alam.
Bangladesh’s government would provide assistance in moving the site of the plant if asked, Nasrul Hamid, a junior minister for power, energy and mineral resources, said Thursday.
Electricity “is a top priority sector,” he said.
Reporting by Serajul Quadir; additional reporting by Nazimuddin Shyamol from Chittagong; Editing by Tommy Wilkes and Christian Schmollinger