CAIRO: At least two were killed and dozens injured in a crackdown on a sit-in in Damietta against the construction of a fertilizer plant early Sunday, eyewitnesses said.
Hany El-Saeed, a doctor from Damietta, told Daily News Egypt in a telephone interview that he saw uniformed army soldiers fire live shots at the protesters to disperse them, emphasizing that they were not military police.
DNE could not independently verify whether the fired shots were live or rubber bullets.
Demonstrations against the construction of the second phase of the plant began on Nov. 7, as citizens objected to the environmental hazard caused by the petrochemical waste.
El-Saeed said that residents reject the plant because “it gives off hazardous fumes that cause cancer.”
Referring to Agrium, the Canadian company invested in the plant, El-Saeed asked why they didn’t build it in Canada: “Are the lives of our people worthless?”
He said that Damietta does not need this project because the governorate does not have an unemployment problem, adding that the plant can easily be relocated.
Protesters blocked roads leading to and from the city. Security, police and military, repeatedly clashed with protesters to open the roads, eyewitnesses said.
“The [construction of the] factory is made up of three phases. The first was already finished, and the other two were stopped because of the protests that swept the governorate [in 2008],” said Ghareb Sahrawy one of the protesters in Damietta.
He attributed the restart of protest action to the revival of Agrium plant’s construction plans.
The protesters decided to block the blocked the roads to get the government’s attention, said Mohamed Awadally, the administrator of the Facebook page “Against Death Factories” which has been mobilizing protesters against the factory.
Awadally was injured last Wednesday by a central security force car that was moving backward. “I was talking to the security head when he told me to take care that the car is going backwards but I was hit before managing to run away,” he explained.
He claimed corruption was at the core of the issue, adding that government officials were ignoring the residents. “Nobody knows how this factory functions but most of it is through bribes,” claimed Awadally.
According to local media reports, Damietta’s governor has shut down Agrium’s MOPCO (Misr Oil Processing Company) factory in accordance with the recommendations of an official environmental committee.
Ibrahim Felfel, head of the Harbor Authority in Damietta, said on Saturday that the sit-in cost Egypt millions of pounds, stating that around 35 ships were not able to use the port since the sit-in began.
MOPCO chairman Medhat Youssef told independent daily Al-Shorouk that shutting down the plant would lead to the dismissal of thousands of workers.
Lawyer Essam Sultan, who represented the residents in their legal fight against the factory, claimed that the formal ruling National Democratic Party was behind the recent flare up.
He said its members are trying to cause chaos in the area to delay the elections.
“The people of Damietta would never break things down and block streets,” the lawyer said.
Sultan is still involved in the legal battle against the construction of the plant. The next hearing is on Nov. 20.
Sultan claims that government permits and approvals were illegally secured for the plant.
According to Sultan, the General Authority for Industrial Development should have carried an inspection but never did. Any consequent permit is therefore null and void without the initial inspection.
He said that he would issue a statement calling on all patriotic powers to unite and to avoid the policy of mistrust and exclusion propagated by some in Damietta.
According to information on agrium.com, in 2008 Agrium Inc. entered into an agreement with MOPCO, whereby MOPCO acquired the EAgrium project, and EAgrium shareholders obtained an equity interest in the combined entity.
Agrium owns a 26 percent interest in the combined entity.-Additional reporting by Reem Abdellatif.