Vol XXVII   NO. 259      Saturday      4 December 2004

'Cruel' Bhopal hoax rapped

BHOPAL: A hoax played on the BBC that US giant Dow Chemical was to pay $12 billion (BD4.5bn) to those maimed in the world's worst industrial disaster was slammed yesterday as "cruel" in this city where thousands died.The British broadcaster had interviewed a man alleging to be a Dow Chemical spokesman who announced the US giant had done an about-face and was taking full responsibility for the Bhopal gas leak on the day of the 20th anniversary.

Dow Chemical would start a $12-billion fund "to finally at long last fully compensate the victims including the 120,000 who may need medical care", the speaker, who called himself Jude Finisterra, told the BBC.

Two hours later the BBC issued a statement admitting it had been taken in by an "elaborate deception".

BBC World said earlier in the day the interview took place in Paris.

"It is a cruel, cruel hoax to play on the people of Bhopal on the 20th anniversary of this tragedy," said Rachna Dhingra, an activist from the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.

"They have not lost hope; they have been through worse and are going to go through worse. This cannot shake their confidence," he vowed.

Thousands were killed instantly on December 3, 1984 when a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal disgorged 40 tonnes of lethal methyl isocyanate gas into the air, while thousands more died in the aftermath of the disaster.

Dow Chemical, which took over Union Carbide, has long insisted that all liabilities regarding the gas leak have been settled with the Indian government.

Survivors of the gas tragedy staged a series of angry protests and a march to mark the anniversary of the accident.

Activists who have for years battled for medical care and financial compensation for the victims, meanwhile, organised a photo exhibition and burnt effigies representing the US company which owned the killer pesticide plant.

Separately, local government officials paid tribute to victims of the disaster, laying flowers at an impromptu memorial and observing a few moments silence before attending an prayer meeting.

At Bhopal's main Shahjahani park, an exhibition of photographs taken soon after the gas billowed from the Union Carbide plant on December 3, 1984, drew large crowds.

The crowd - spanning all ages of Indian society - shouted and waved signs as they walked through Bhopal's streets.

"Never again should a Bhopal happen anywhere in the world," Balkrishna Namdev, a rights activist, told the crowd that gathered outside the graffiti-covered walls of the abandoned Union Carbide factory. "However long it takes, our struggles to get justice will go on."

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