Thousands of people demonstrating over fears of pollution from a sewage pipeline at a paper factory in eastern China clashed with police yesterday, the latest in a series of environmental protests.
The protestors overturned two cars and ransacked local government offices in the coastal city of Qidong, near Shanghai, an AFP photographer said.
Demonstrators seized bottles of liquor and wine from the offices along with cartons of cigarettes, items which Chinese officials frequently receive as bribes, according to messages on Sina Weibo (新浪微博), China’s Twitter-like service.
Thousands of people had gathered in a square in front of the government offices and in adjacent streets yesterday morning, with armed police arriving at the scene later in the morning.
However, the crowds dispersed after local authorities used television, radio, the Internet and text messages to announce that the waste water pipeline project at the mill, which belongs to Japanese company Oji Paper, would be “permanently canceled.”
Oji Paper denied it was causing pollution and said closing the 110km pipeline would not affect operations at the plant, located in Nantong, Jiji Press reported.
“We don’t release ‘polluted water’ as we are currently releasing water after purification that meets the local environmental standards,” the news agency quoted a company public relations official as saying.
Protests against environmental degradation have increased in China, where three decades of rapid and unfettered industrial expansion have taken their toll.
The sewage pipe from the paper mill would have discharged into the sea in the port of Lusi, one of four fishing harbors in Qidong, said one protester, who for safety reasons only gave her name as Qin.
Discharges were set to climb to 150,000 tonnes of sewage a day when the mill was fully operational, according to residents quoted on Friday by the state-run Global Times newspaper.
Qin said there had been about 50,000 demonstrators, but that “almost everyone left after the government’s promise to stop the project.”
A Nantong official, who gave his name as Chen, denied rumors that an 18-year-old man had been beaten to death by police.
“It must be a rumor, if true we would know,” Chen said by telephone.
A photograph posted on the Internet showed a man, identified online as Sun Jianhua, the party secretary of the city, protected by police. He had apparently been stripped to the waist by protesters.
One microblogger using the name Qidong Longhuisheng estimated numbers at 100,000.
“There are people everywhere, on walls, cars, rooftops, in streets,” another Internet user said, writing under the name Jiaojiaotaotailang.
Searches including “Qidong” were blocked yesterday on Sina Weibo, which has more than 250 million subscribers.