Nine people were killed in police firing after protests for the closure of Sterlite Copper plant over pollution concerns turned violent in Tamil Nadu's Tuticorin, with the police action drawing opposition criticism.
Chief Minister K Palaniswami confirmed reports about the death of nine people in "police action", while reports claimed many, including policemen, were injured in clashes.
Governor Banwarilal Purohit condoled the deaths.
Palaniswami announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the families of each of the deceased, and ordered judicial inquiry into the violence.
The protests were going on in Tuticorin for over three months now, but violence erupted today with agitators fighting pitched battles with police, prompting it to open fire.
Also Read: Anti-Sterlite protests: 'Brutal example of state sponsored terrorism', says Rahul Gandhi after 9 killed in violence | As it happened
Palaniswami said in a statement in Chennai that the protesters took out a procession towards the collectorate in defiance of the prohibitory orders clamped in the specific area in Tuticorin.
Hurling stones and setting government vehicles and public property on fire, the agitators went on the rampage in the town, about 600 km from Tamil Nadu capital Chennai.
Police said nearly 5000 protesters gathered near a local church and insisted on taking a 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 nine people.
"The police had to take action under unavoidable circumstances to protect public life and property as the protestors resorted to repeated violence... police had to control the violence," Palaniswami, who holds the Home portfolio, said.
Reinforcements have been rushed from neighbouring districts to Tuticorin to assist the local administration in restoring normalcy.
Some senior officials have also been despatched from Chennai to the strife-torn town to assess the situation and take measures to restore calm, sources said.
Meanwhile, an official release said about 20,000 people took out a procession towards the district collectorate and the copper plant, demanding its permanent closure.
The government, underlining its "pro-people commitment", said further legal action would be taken, "respecting" their feelings.
"The Tamil Nadu government requests the people to accept this (assurance) and maintain peace," it said.
The statement said the plant was in operation in Meelavitan in Tuticorin for the past 20 years.
Following a gas leak in March 2013, the then chief minister the late J Jayalalithaa, ordered its closure, following which the company moved the National Green Tribunal.
With the tribunal overturning the government order, the state moved the Supreme Court against it, and the petition was now pending there, it added.
It said the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) had earlier this year rejected Sterlite's application seeking
renewal of consent to operate the plant over non-fulfilment of green norms, including those related to disposal of copper waste and effluents.
The company later moved the Appellate Authority and the next hearing is slated for June 6, it said.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi described the killing of 9 people in anti-Sterlite protests as 'state sponsored terrorism'. "The gunning down by the police of 9 people in the Sterlite protest in Tamil Nadu, is a brutal example of state sponsored terrorism. These citizens were murdered for protesting against injustice. My thoughts & prayers are with the families of these martyrs and the injured," Rahul tweeted.
DMK Working President and Leader of Opposition, MK Stalin, slammed the "inhumane" firing on protestors.
In a statement, he demanded an inquiry by a sitting high court judge, besides a compensation of Rs 1 crore for the families of each of those killed.
The government committed a "Himalayan blunder" by handling the protest with "guns and teargas shells," he said, adding at least a minister accompanied by the district collector should have spoken to the agitators. He called for the removal of state police chief TK Rajendiran.
Stalin, who was to attend the swearing-in ceremony of JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy as Karnataka chief minister tomorrow, said he has cancelled his Bengaluru visit, and would head for Tuticorin to take stock of the situation.
MDMK founder Vaiko likened the incident to the British-era Jallianwala Bagh massacre, while the CPI(M)'s state unit
demanded the chief minister's resignation.
Opposition parties including PMK, DMDK, Congress, and the MNM slammed the violence and police action, while actor Rajinikanth, who is slated to launch his political party, held the government responsible for the deaths.
Stalin and MNM founder Kamal Haasan demanded permanent closure of the plant.
(With PTI inputs)