Residents of a city in China took to the streets for a third day yesterday, demanding the government scrap plans for a copper alloy project they fear will poison them, in the latest unrest spurred by environmental concerns.
The show of defiance in Shifang, Sichuan Province, has persisted despite authorities saying they had temporarily halted work on the plant and threatening to punish protest organizers if they did not give themselves up.
The protest turned violent the previous day when tens of thousands of residents stormed the city government headquarters, smashed police cars and clashed with thousands of anti-riot police, according to Hong Kong media.
Environmental worries have stoked calls for expanded rights for citizens and greater consultation in the tightly controlled one-party state, where leaders are obsessed with maintaining stability, while fostering economic growth.
“We have so many people in Shifang, we aren’t afraid of them,” an 18-year-old saleswoman, who declined to be identified, said by telephone. “The Shifang people will definitely not surrender. We Shifang people are fundamentally non-violent, we just don’t want them to build the plant in Shifang. Is that so hard?”
The woman estimated that there were about 10,000 people on the streets, most of them students, demonstrating against the building of the molybdenum-copper alloy factory by Shanghai-listed Sichuan Hongda.
She accused police of beating the protesters on Monday night. Police were not immediately available for comment.
Another resident, who gave her family name as Guo (郭), said there were still protests happening and she estimated that about 1,000 were taking part.
“The government has said they will stop the plant from opening, but many people have not seen this notice and those who have, do not believe it,” she said.
Pictures yesterday showed young people carrying red banners reading: “Get rid of the Hong da molybdenum plant, return beautiful new Shifang to me.”
A second picture showed riot police surrounding a small group of protesters outside a post office.
At least 13 people were injured on Monday when police used teargas to disperse the crowd, the city government said.
It said there were no deaths, but Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper and a resident reported that one high-school student had died.
On its official microblog, the Shifang government yesterday called on people who have used the Internet, text messages and other means of “incitement” to “stop their illegal activities.”
The government said it would be lenient toward people who surrendered within three days for their roles in organizing the protest, but others would be “severely punished.”
The Shifang government also said it would temporarily suspend the building of the factory.
Sichuan Hongda, one of China’s biggest zinc and lead producers, issued a statement yesterday acknowledging the government’s announcement of the temporary suspension.
However, the firm maintained that it was a government-approved project.