Protests in a small town in China appear to have escalated with residents smashing cars and hurling bricks even though officials sought to calm tempers by suspending a plan to build a power plant.
Angry crowds smashed and overturned police cars and riot police fired teargas in Haimen town in Shantou City on Wednesday, the second day of the unrest, Hong Kong newspapers reported.
The unrest escalated as a 10-day standoff between villagers and officials over a land dispute in the same province was resolved, and as China’s domestic security chief told officials to focus on stability before the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) leadership transition next year.
Residents of Haimen, furious with plans to build a coal-fired power plant, took to the streets on Tuesday, surrounding a government building and blocking an expressway.
Officials agreed to suspend the project this week, but residents refused to back down, demanding the plan be scrapped.
Outside a large and closed petrol station near a highway into Haimen, about 100 men on motorbikes watched a wall of riot police armed with batons and shields, blocking the highway.
“What place in the world builds two power plants within one kilometer?” a Haimen resident surnamed Cai said as he watched the riot police.
“The factories are hazardous to our health. Our fish are dying and there are so many people who’ve got cancer,” he said.
“We thought of protesting outside the government office, but we know none of them has listened to us,” he said.
“So we had no choice but to block the highway. The police beat up so many of the protesters in the past two days,” Cai added.
At one point, Haimen residents screamed and surged forward when a riot policeman, waving his baton in the air, charged towards a man on a motorcycle who had been riding towards the police blockade on the highway.
“This place is very chaotic, I think it’s best for you to leave immediately,” a man who identified himself as a Shantou government official told a Reuters reporter.
However, in other parts of the town, life appeared to be normal, with shops open and people going about their business.
Government officials, including those in charge of security, have been vague and have appeared to play down the unrest.
A Shantou official told Reuters by telephone on Wednesday that there had been injuries in the unrest but no deaths.
However, an official at the Chaoyang Public Security Bureau yesterday denied any deaths or injuries, although he said there had been a “gathering” the previous day.
Haimen is under the jurisdiction of Chaoyang District in the booming southern province of Guangdong.
Xinhua news agency said several hundred people had protested on a highway on Wednesday. According to Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper, more than 1,000 residents gathered at a toll gate to confront hundreds of riot police.
Witnesses said that police fired four rounds of teargas and beat up protesters, who did not want another power plant while existing power facilities already pollute air and seawater and greatly reduce their catch at sea, the report added.
At least three protesters were hit and arrested.
Many people in China are increasingly unwilling to accept the relentless speed of urbanization and industrialization and the impact on the environment and health.
Residents of Wukan village, also in Guangdong Province, agreed to end a 10-day standoff with authorities over a land dispute on Wednesday.