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Bhopal Victims, Rights Activists Mark Anniversary of Union Carbide Disaster


The central Indian city of Bhopal is marking the 20th anniversary of the world's worst industrial disaster, which has killed more than 15,000 people. Local activists and global rights groups are at the forefront of the observances.

Survivors of the disaster, and local and international activists held angry protests and marches Friday in Bhopal near the Union Carbide plant that 20 years ago sent a toxic cloud of gas over the city, killing and sickening tens-of-thousands of people.

On Thursday evening, men, women and children held flaming torches to mark the disaster, which began shortly after midnight on December third, 1984. More than seven-thousand people died within days of the mishap. More than 15,000 have died in the years since from illnesses caused by the gas.

Fresh skull and crossbones signs were painted on the walls of the plant. Demonstrators also burned an effigy representing the U.S. company that owned the plant at the time.

They called on the world to remember that no individual has been held accountable for the world's worst industrial disaster, and that its victims are still in search of just compensation.

Vinuta Gopal, with the environmental group Greenpeace in Bhopal, says the disaster is a symbol of the dangers of the chemical age, and of a lack of corporate accountability.

"It is very important to remember all the lessons that Bhopal has to tell us, because the danger of forgetting is to allow another Bhopal to happen," she said. "It is also to remember all those people who were killed in this, what I would call a corporate crime."

Union Carbide paid the Indian government $470 million in a 1989 settlement. Much of that money already has been paid to survivors. The U.S. company and Dow Chemical, which took it over in 2001, say the settlement means it has no further responsibility for compensation. Union Carbide officials also say the Indian government took responsibility for cleaning up the contaminated plant.

But the activists in Bhopal say the compensation is too little.

Activists say the women of Bhopal will continue to fight the corporation.

They are led by women like Rasheeda Bee, who says she can never forget the horror of that night.

Ms. Bee says death was welcomed by those touched by the poisonous gas on the fateful December night. She says the lucky ones died that night, the unlucky ones survived.

On Thursday the Indian government said it will act to clean-up the site, where large quantities of toxic chemicals still lie, and are thought to be contaminating the ground water of the city. The environmental group Greenpeace welcomed the announcement but called it the "slowest step in history."