DHAKA — A Bangladeshi policeman was beaten to death on Monday when clashes erupted as 20,000 villagers demonstrated against proposals to build a new airport, officials said.
Scores of people were injured during the violence as locals threw bricks and rocks at police after the government approved plans to build a $7 billion airport outside Dhaka, the national capital.
Protesters, some armed with sticks and axes, attacked police at the site in Srinagar sub-district, 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of the city. The police responded by firing rubber bullets and tear gas.
“A police sub inspector was killed after he was attacked by villagers with sticks and machetes,” deputy police chief Lalon Ahmed told AFP. Ahmed was himself was injured and admitted to hospital with head and leg wounds.
“They stopped a police van by felling a tree and then attacked a number of police officers, one of them died in hospital from his wounds,” he said. “At least 50 people, including 40 policemen, were injured, several seriously.”
Villagers also burned down a nearby police post and blocked a major highway between Dhaka and the airport site.
The protesters had gathered immediately after the government said it would go ahead with a controversial land requisition policy for the airport.
The project, which is set to cost up to seven billion dollars, was approved by the cabinet last April, with officials saying the new airport was necessary as air travel is growing rapidly in Bangladesh.
The country currently has three airports with but the largest of these, Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport — formerly Zia International Airport — in Dhaka cannot be expanded due to lack of suitable land.
Villagers in Srinagar have been organising rallies for a nearly a year since a government body announced the area would be given over to the airport.
Compensation has been offered to residents, but the villagers do not want to relocate and have turned down the government’s offers.
Airport expansion has caused other social unrest in south Asia, with a new proposed hub outside the Indian city of Mumbai triggering regular protests from locals and environmentalists.