Authorities in northeastern China yesterday ordered a petrochemical plant to be shut down immediately after thousands of people demonstrated, demanding the relocation of the factory at the center of a toxic spill scare, state media said.
Demonstrators in the port city of Dalian, Liaoning Province, faced down a wall of police in riot gear in front of the municipal government office. Minor scuffles broke out, although there was no report of injuries among the 12,000 protesters, Xinhua news agency said.
The authorities also pledged to relocate the Fujia Chemical Plant, Xinhua said, citing a statement from the municipal committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the government.
Media said on Monday last week that residents in Dalian were forced to flee when a storm battering the northeast Chinese coast whipped up waves that burst through a dike protecting the Fujia plant, which makes paraxylene (PX), a toxic petrochemical used in polyester.
Although authorities repaired the dike and insisted no spills were detected, the incident sparked panic that PX could have been released, fueling resentment against the project. Calls on popular microblogging site Weibo and QQ, an instant messaging system, urged residents to protest yesterday.
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 growing public anger over pollution and environmental threats.
In a rare concession, CCP Municipal Committee Secretary for Dalian Tang Jun (唐軍) and Dalian Mayor Li Wancai (李萬才) earlier yesterday “tried to appease the crowd by promising to move the polluting project out of the city,” Xinhua said.
However, protesters demanded a clear timetable for moving the plant, with some refusing to move until a timetable was established, Xinhua said.
Protesters, including children, marched holding banners that declared: “I love Dalian and reject poison,” “Return my home and garden, get out PX, protect Dalian,” and “Return my generation’s beautiful home,” according to eyewitness accounts.
Xinhua said protesters threw bottles of mineral water at police, who tried to cordon off the main road that passes near the square, but relented after police backed down.
“A poster was put on the Internet yesterday urging people to ‘stroll’ on Sunday morning starting from 10am on the People’s Square, near where the Dalian government is located,” a resident in Dalian, who declined to be named, said by telephone.
“We know that the typhoon caused some leak of poisonous chemicals from the PX project and we are all worrying about it, because it is a threat to our life,” the resident said. “We hope that such a ’stroll’ may push the government to do something as soon as possible to dispel our worries.”
Group strolls have become one way for Chinese people to show discontent with the government.