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Bhopal disaster protesters block India trains

AP News
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Posted: Dec 03, 2011 8:19 AM
Bhopal disaster protesters block India trains

Thousands of survivors of the world's worst industrial accident blocked trains through a central Indian city on Saturday to demand more compensation.

The protest came on the 27th anniversary of the disaster in Bhopal, where a Union Carbide pesticide plant leaked lethal gas that killed an estimated 15,000 people and maimed tens of thousands more.

Activist Rachna Dhingra said police charged the protesters with sticks in trying to stop them from occupying Bhopal's five train lines. The protesters, most of them women sitting on the tracks, threw stones at the officers and set four police jeeps and several motorcycles on fire.

Several people, including a police superintendent, were injured in the stone pelting, police said. Eight women were detained, activists said.

Trains were backed up and halted on most lines through much of Saturday, including the route between Delhi and the southern city of Chennai.

The five Bhopal victims' rights groups that organized the protest demanded that Dow Chemicals, which bought Union Carbide in 2001, pay $8.1 billion in compensation for more than 500,000 people exposed to the leak.

The activists called off plans to continue the protest Sunday, after the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh state, where Bhopal is located, promised to back their campaign and lobby the prime minister for his support.

The protesters _ shouting slogans including "We want compensation" _ said India's government accepted far too little in a 1985 settlement for $470 million, after initially asking for $3.3 billion.

The government is seeking an additional $1.7 billion for the victims from Dow, and activists accuse the U.S. company of not cleaning up oil and groundwater contamination in Bhopal.

Meanwhile, Dow has maintained that the issue was resolved by the $470 million settlement.

"When the moment came to ask for rights for compensation, why this betrayal? The government has undermined the victims," Dhingra said.

Bhopal activists and survivors are also calling for Dow Chemicals to be dropped as a sponsor of the 2012 London Olympics. On Friday, about 200 protesters marched to the now-abandoned plant and burned effigies of two Olympic officials.

At least 21 Indian Olympic athletes have urged the organizers of the London Games to end Dow's sponsorship, which includes a curtain-style wrap around a stadium where some Olympic events will be held.

A few officials have even called for India to boycott the Olympics, but the government has said it has no plans to skip the Games, while London Olympic organizers say they will not change their position on Dow's sponsorship.