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Nine Environmental Protesters Killed in India

Women shout slogans during a protest against the government and police forces, after at least nine people were killed when police fired at protesters calling for the closure of a Vedanta Resources-controlled copper smelter in Thootukudi, in southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, in Chennai, India, May 22, 2018.

At least nine people were killed Tuesday in southern India when police opened fire on protesters demanding the closure of a copper plant.

The violence came amid months of protests against the Sterlite copper smelting plant owned by London-based mining giant Vedanta Resources, which demonstrators said polluted the area's groundwater and put local fisheries at risk.

The company maintains that it follows environmental standards and has accused vested interests of spreading "false propaganda" about its operations.

"The police had to take action under unavoidable circumstances to protect public life and property,'' Tamil Nadu state Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami said.

On Twitter, Rahul Gandhi, leader of the opposition Indian National Congress Party, condemned the use of force as "state-sponsored terrorism."

A police officer told the French news agency AFP that attempts by security forces to disperse the 5,000-strong crowd with baton charges and tear gas were ineffective before they opened fire with live ammunition.

The plant has been the focus of protests since 2013, when a gas leak sickened dozens of people. The plant was closed in late March by pollution regulators, though it could reopen as early as June 6.