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Vedanta puts up for sale Indian copper smelter shut after deadly protests

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By Sudarshan Varadhan

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's oil-to-metals conglomerate Vedanta Ltd on Monday offered to sell a copper smelter complex in southern Tamil Nadu state that was closed four years ago after police opened fire during protests which culminated in 13 deaths.

Prospective buyers have until July 4 to submit expressions of interest, the company said, without giving financial details.

Vedanta's 400,000 tonnes per annum copper smelter in the port city of Thoothukudi was ordered shut in May 2018 by the southern Tamil Nadu state, a week after the deadly protests that sought the plant's closure for alleged pollution.

The incident, in which 12 protesters were shot dead and one died from other injuries, was condemned by a working group of United Nations' human rights experts for the "excessive and disproportionate use of lethal force by police".

Vedanta, which has repeatedly denied allegations of the smelter being polluting, has challenged Tamil Nadu state's decision to permanently shut the smelter at the Supreme Court. The smelter was operated by its unit Sterlite Copper.

It is not clear when the Supreme Court will hear the case.

"Interested and financially competent parties shall submit expression of interest along with company profile and other relevant credentials latest by 1800 hours, 4th July 2022," Vedanta said in a newspaper advertisement on Monday.

The company, controlled by billionaire Anil Agarwal, said in March 2021 it was looking for a state government partner to set up a new, 100 billion rupees ($1.37 billion) copper smelter.

The proposed 500,000 tonnes per annum copper smelter could employ as many as 10,000 people, Vedanta said, adding that it was looking for a 1000-acre site close to a port. It is not immediately clear if the proposal received any interest.

Shares of Vedanta fell as much as 10% in early trade on Monday to 237.60 Indian rupees ($3.05), the lowest level in over a year.

($1 = 77.9475 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

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