|Local residents gather in front of a municipal government building in Shifang county, Sichuan province. (REUTERS)|
Pollution Riots - Instant Internet communications helps those fighting the Communist Government
- 27 people were taken into custody for destroying public property
After three days of protests and violent clashes with police, residents of Shifang in south western China, have finally had their demands met and local authorities have decided to abandon plans to construct a copper alloy plant in the city.
The movement began on social networks with web users sharing concerns over the effects this project would have on the environment and the health of locals.
The protesting soon spread to the streets of the city with residents voicing their opposition to the construction of this polluting factory. As we can see in various pieces of amateur video footage circulating online, the rallies were unceremoniously dispersed with riot police using tear gas.
Shifang City authorities said they would pay the medical costs of people, both protesters and passers-by, hurt during three days of protest against the construction of a US$ 1.6 billion molybdenum-copper alloy plant.
Protests began on 1 July. Local witnesses said that on the first evening police in anti-riot gear and soldiers took over the town's centre after firing tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Agents also took 27 people into custody for destroying public property; 21 were released without charges. The six still in custody are charged with throwing objects at police, but their status might improve since residents continue to demand their release.
A 15-year-old boy has accused riot police of excessive force. "I was a passer-by when 20 or 30 riot policemen rushed at me. One of them kicked me to the ground, and other policemen beat me with truncheons, while others kept stepping on and kicking me for about a minute."
Shifang residents' victory marks a turning point for China's pollution problem. Until recently, local Communist authorities tended to seize land without compensation to sell it to private interests that more often than not built polluting factories. However, more and more ordinary Chinese are become civic minded and demonstrations are proving successful.
Photos posted online showed protesters carrying banners reading: "Safeguard our hometown, oppose the chemical factory's construction" and "Unite to protect the environment for the next generation".
The demonstration is the latest in a series of "not in my backyard" grassroots protests in China, testifying to growing fears about the toll that development is taking of the environment and health. Last summer, tens of thousands of people in the north-eastern city of Dalian marched to demand the relocation of a chemical plant. (UK Guardian)
|Chinese riot policemen patrol the streets after pollution protests.|
Despite the dual concessions, some Chinese called for the punishment of officials responsible for the violent crackdown. An 18-year-old resident told Reuters by telephone on Tuesday the police had beaten protesters the previous night.
“What are we going to do about the bastards who used violence on innocent people?” said microblog comment.
Said another: “You have beaten up a bunch of innocent people. Don’t these leaders need to be criminally detained too? Release them!”
Photos of Tuesday night’s sit-in protest published on microblogs showed a large crowd sitting down under street lamps, in what one microblogger described as “a sea of people” demanding the release of those detained.
The protests turned violent on Monday when tens of thousands of residents stormed the city government headquarters, smashed police cars and clashed with thousands of anti-riot police, which fired tear gas on protesters.
The outpouring of public anger is emblematic of the rising discontent facing Chinese leaders, who are obsessed with maintaining stability and struggling to balance growth with rising public anger over environmental threats. (nepal24hours.com)