Chennai, May 22: At least nine people were reportedly killed and 30 others injured in a police firing in retaliation to anti-Sterlite protests that turned violent in Tuticorin on Tuesday. Agitators, demanding the closure of Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper unit, pelted stones and toppled police vehicles after they were prevented from marching towards the plant. Authorities have imposed Section 144 of CrPc in and around the Sterlite unit as per the orders of Madras High Court.

Nearly 20,000 protesters had gathered for a rally towards the Collector’s office in Tuticorin, according to a press release by Tamil Nadu government. “The Government of Amma will take all steps possible to resolve the problem at the Sterlite factory through legal means. The Government requests the people to hold their peace till such time,” said the press release. The press release did not make any mention of casualties during police firing.

According to a PTI report, police said nearly 5000 protesters gathered near a local church and insisted on taking out a rally to the district collectorate after they were denied permission to march to the copper smelter plant. Initial pushing and shoving soon led to violent clashes, after agitated locals began hurling stones at police and overturned a vehicle. Security personnel used batons and burst teargas shells to break up the protest.

Many were injured in stone-pelting by the agitators, who also set some vehicles on fire. Windscreens of some government cars were smashed and bank premises were attacked by the rampaging mobs. As the violence spiralled, police opened fire, killing eight persons, said an Economic Times report. News agency ANI reported that nine people were killed during the protest. Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar said though the government appreciated the sentiments of the protesters, police firing had become “unavoidable”.

The minister said Chief Minister K Palaniswami was “concerned ” over today’s incidents and discussed the matter with officials. Reinforcements have been rushed from neighbouring districts to Tuticorin to assist the local administration in restoring normalcy. DMK Working President MK Stalin condemned the police action, saying the state government should have sorted out the issue earlier through talks with the protesters.

Meanwhile, a peaceful demonstration was held near the old bus stand in the town, also demanding the closure of the Sterlite unit and the proposed expansion of the plant. Several shops in this town, Srivaikundam and Oddapidaram remained shut in support of the protest, police said. The district has been witnessing several protests by locals and others against the Sterlite Copper plant here and its proposed expansion.

Protesters have alleged that the plant was polluting groundwater in their area. Sterlite Copper represents the copper unit of Vedanta Limited which operates a 400,000 tonnes per annum-plant in Tuticorin.