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Indian clergymen booked as anti-port protests turn violent

Kerala state police have named at least 15 Latin Catholic priests, including metropolitan Archbishop Thomas J Netto

Archbishop Thomas Netto of Trivandrum (center) leading the protest of fishermen, who want the government to halt the construction of a port project in the southern Indian state of Kerala

Archbishop Thomas Netto of Trivandrum (center) leading the protest of fishermen, who want the government to halt the construction of a port project in the southern Indian state of Kerala. (Photo: supplied)

Published: November 28, 2022 11:30 AM GMT

Updated: November 28, 2022 11:35 AM GMT

Police in the southern Indian state of Kerala has booked at least 15 Latin Catholic leaders including Metropolitan Archbishop Thomas J Netto after violent protests against Vizhinjam seaport during the past two days.

The archbishop, auxiliary bishop R Kristudas along with a dozen other priests were named in a first information report registered by the police after the months-long peaceful protests by local fishermen led by the Church against the under-construction international seaport turned violent on Nov. 27.

A day earlier, the anti-port protesters blocked the entry of trucks ferrying construction material to the port site. Police took five among them into custody and detained them at the local police station.

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The protesters continued to gather in huge numbers and targeted the police station using sticks and bricks. Some 30 police officials were reported to have been injured during the violence.

“At least 29 policemen have been injured and admitted to various hospitals,” the Press Trust of India (PTI) reported quoting a police official.

Over 1,000 agitators including women and children had gathered and police had to use teargas shells and charge with batons to disperse the agitated mob, the official told PTI.

Police said the mob damaged vehicles and furniture on the premises of the police station. They also attacked media persons present and damaged their cameras, cell phones and other equipment.

Father Eugene Pereira, a convener of the fishermen’s protests, blamed the Communist-led provincial government and Adani Group, the private firm constructing the seaport, for provoking the peaceful protesters.

Father Pereira said the protests have been underway peacefully at the port site since July 20.

Father Michael Thomas, another convener of the protests, told UCA News on Nov. 28 that the violence and subsequent action against the Church leaders were part of a conspiracy to weaken their resolve.

“We will not call off our agitation until the government accepts our demands,” he said.

Meanwhile, the state government has convened an all-party meeting on Nov. 28 to find a solution to the crisis.

The bishops and priests of the Latin Archdiocese of Trivandrum are spearheading the protests to protect the lives and livelihood of more than 50,000 affected fishermen.

The international port project launched in 2015 led to nearly 500 fishermen losing their homes to seawater following coastal erosion triggered by the construction activities.

The protesting fishermen want the government to stop the construction work for three months and conduct an environmental impact assessment of the project.

They say the government never took serious note of their seven-point charter of demands seeking compensation for loss of land and livelihood, besides ensuring complete rehabilitation and alternate sources of income.

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