Unrest at Chinese-Financed Plant in Bangladesh; 5 Dead in Police Firing

Violence erupted at a Bangladeshi power plant on Saturday, resulting in police firing that killed five protesting workers. Police opened fire after clashes with Bangladeshi workers at the construction site of a Chinese-financed power plant.

Saiduzzman Chowdhury, the government administrator in the southern coastal town of Banshkhali, said the workers turned violent. It has been reported that the workers were protesting over unpaid wages, working hours and alleged discrimination.

They deadly violence happened at the multi-billion dollar SS Power One plant, which is one of the biggest Chinese investments in Bangladesh. The project was finalized when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Bangladesh in 2016.

Red Carpet Welcome to Chinese Investments

China is already one of the biggest trading partners for Bangladesh. The trade between the two countries was worth $10.45 billion in 2015-2016.

Bangladesh is wooed by India, Japan and China, and Beijing has given higher priority to diplomatic and economic partnership with the impoverished nation straddling Asia and Southeast Asia.

Dhaka had rolled out a red carpet welcome to Chinese investments by establishing two economic zones to Chinese investors in Gazaria and Anwara of Chittagong.

What Led to Violence?

The local police chief said around 2,000 workers pelted threw stones and bricks at the police. "On Saturday morning, the leaders of the workers' union sat in a meeting with the local administration to settle the issue. At one stage, an altercation ensued between the police and the power plant workers around 11:45am, triggering a chase and counter-chase. Later, police fired bullets to disperse the workers," the police said, according to Dhaka Tribune.

Many workers and several police officers also sustained injuries. Five workers were taken to Chittagong Medical College after they sustained gunshot injuries.

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People display the national flag as they block a street Representational Reuters

The 1,200-megawatt coal power plant is 30 percent owned by Chinese engineering giant SEPCOIII. The $2.5 billion project has been at the center controversies in the past. In 2016, four people were killed when the police opened fire on a protest by villagers. Another protest rally in 2017 resulted in the death of a person in police firing.

The power plant is designed to have two units that generate 612MW units each. It was expected to go online in November 2019 but the project was not completed by then resulting in a hefty fine being slapped by the Bangladesh government.

As much as 70 percent stake in the project is owned by S Alam group while Chinese companies SEPCOIII Electric Power Construction Corporation and STG Development Group hold 20 percent and 10 percent each respectively.

According to the company that constructs the plant, around 3,000 construction workers were working at the site.

The locals residents, most of whom are fishermen and salt farm workers, staged a mass protest in 2016, saying that the project would hurt the livelihood of more than 30,000 people.