Tension simmers in Koodankulam

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Even as engineers and other workers drove in to resume work following the government’s green signal for the Koodankulam nuclear power project, the situation at Idinthakarai, which is less than 10 minutes drive from the nuke plant, is getting more tense by the minute as the ‘fast-to-death’ by the protesters’ leader S.P. Udayakumar and 14 others entered the second day on Tuesday.

The two men sat surrounded by about 500 people, many of them women and children, defying the police call for surrender. Several locals, mostly fishermen, visited the fasting site to show solidarity with this agitation spearheaded by the People’s Movement against Nuclear Energy.

The supporters, particularly women, raised slogans that they would not allow their two leaders to surrender to police. “If you want, you come here and arrest all of us”, said an activist, reacting to the police request to Udayakumar to step out and surrender.

The agitators are clearly prepared for a long standoff with the police, having brought in rice and other provisions. Sources said a hearty meal of rice and karuvattu kuzhambu (dry fish curry) was prepared for almost 4,000 people who visited the protest site on Tuesday. “We will continue to resist this anti-people project”, declared Udayakumar.

“There is no need for such massive deployment of police here. This is nothing short of state terrorism against a peaceful group of women, children and men fighting for the last seven months in a non-violent manner”, he told reporters.

Uneasy calm at Koodankulam

As the 950-odd engineers, scientists and workers returned to their office at the Koodankulam nuclear power plant on Tuesday morning, an eerie silence prevailed in villages and fishing hamlets surrounding the site.

All roads leading to many of the seaside hamlets including Idinthakarai, Perumanal, Thomaiarpuram, Kuthankuli have been blocked by police and Central forces to prevent any gathering of locals in support of the protesters. Vehicle movement has been totally stalled for the last two days and public have been urged to refrain from forming groups as police authorities have invoked Section 144 of the IPC in Radhapuram taluk until April 2.

Back in Idinthakarai, hundreds of fishermen and their families thronged the protest site and joined the indefinite hunger strike announced by S. P. Udayakumar and 15 others condemning the state cabinet nod for continuing work at the plant.

“We feel let down by the state government which has been supporting us till now,” said Udayakumar. “Unfortunately even the state committee members never interacted with the fishermen and gave their nod for the project without allaying our fears.”

Elsewhere in the area, people refused to talk to the media and remained indoors. Shops were closed and children did not go to school. “We are afraid that violence might break out any moment,” said a woman from Kuthankuli who requested anonymity. “So many police personnel have been posted that we fear for our lives,” she added.

The state government’s ` 500 crore package for families living close to the plant has been received with skepticism at best. “This is not about money. If our aim was to get money from the government, we could have come to an agreement long ago,” protesters at the venue said.

Defying the road blocks, several fishermen and their families reached the protest venue through fibre boats to express solidarity with protesters and claimed that they will continue to oppose the operation of the plant.

“However, we will not resort to violence. Our protests have been peaceful so far and will continue to remain that way,” said Arockiaraj and his friends from Kuthankuli who had ferried to the protest site with his friends on Tuesday.

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