Six Held After Pollution Protests in Two Chinese Provinces

Smoke is discharged from chimneys at an oil refining and chemical plant in China's Shandong province, Feb. 9, 2014. ImagineChina
Chinese authorities are holding at least six people following clashes with residents angry over chemical pollution in separate protests in Sichuan and Zhejiang provinces, protesters said on Wednesday.

Police clashed with angry protesters following a protest in Sichuan's Dujiangyan township on Tuesday, while residents of Zhejiang's Chongkuang township said police have detained six local residents who tried to stop construction work beginning on a planned chemical plant near their homes.

"They blocked the street for more than two hours," an eyewitness and Chongkuang resident who declined to be named told RFA.

"The traffic couldn't move anywhere, or get past."

"There were about 30 or 40 of them ... The main thing was they were protesting about [potential] pollution from the factory."

"Then, the higher-ups sent the armed police in," he said.

A local village official from the ruling Chinese Communist Party surnamed Chen said local residents were "making a fuss over nothing," however.

"There's no reason for them to make trouble," Chen said. "The confrontation was over the extension of power supply lines to the site, but that is a back-up power line for the people in our village to use."

"Some individuals in our village incited some old ladies to face off with the government," he added.

Clash

Meanwhile, in Puyang township near Sichuan's Dujiangyan, more than 100 villagers clashed with police over a waste water treatment plant they say is polluting the environment near their homes.

One photo posted to social media from the scene showed a police vehicle overturned, with the words "Police are beating people" printed on it.

"More than 100 people had gathered there, so they called in a lot of police, who started beating up local people," an eyewitness who declined to be named told RFA on Wednesday.

"They overturned a police vehicle, and when the police arrived, they didn't say a word, but ripped down the [protesters'] tents and smashed up their tables," he said.

"Then they protected themselves with shields, and went over and started beating people up."

Another eyewitness said her elderly mother had been attacked by riot police.

"My mother is very old, but they still beat her up like this, so of course she's in a bad way now," she said. "But my brother is even more seriously hurt, with injuries to his head and back."

"We are demanding that the government pay the medical bills."

Call for relocation

A Dujiangyan resident surnamed Xu said local people were demanding that the waste-treatment plant relocate.

"They are still there protesting," she said on Wednesday. "There are large numbers of police there as well."

She said protests had recurred frequently around the plant since it was built.

"There are often villagers there [protesting]," Xu said. "It's happened a few times now."

An officer who answered the phone at the Puyang township police station declined to comment on the incident.

Calls to the Puyang township government propaganda department rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.

However, the official help website in Chengdu, Sichuan's provincial capital, reported that complaints had been received about the plant last month via the mayoral hotline.

"The pollution from the plant is serious, and nobody is doing anything about it," a woman, surnamed Luo, had told the government.

"The environment all around has been seriously affected."

The waste water plant was set up in May 2010 after an environmental impact assessment was carried out, and requisite measures take, according to the government website.

"Effluent from the plant is now in line with national limits," it said.

Environmental damage

Meanwhile, user @mingtianxiaoxiaodejiaoao posted to a popular social media website: "The people who live near the waste-water treatment plant in Shuangbo village, Puyang township, Dujiangyan have such a hard time of it, because of the environmental damaged caused by the plant."

"There is a stench that emanates from the place every evening, and it often causes sore throats, while there is a plague of flies the entire year round."

"Kids have mysterious red blisters on their skin," the user added. "But no government department will take responsibility."

Worsening levels of air and water pollution, as well as disputes over the effects of heavy metals from mining and industry, have forced ordinary Chinese to become increasingly involved in environmental protection and protest, according to a 2013 report from the Friends of Nature group.

Many have been prompted into action by China's environmental crisis, sparking a rise in "mass incidents" linked to pollution, while environmental groups have raised growing concerns over the falsification of pollution testing and environmental impact assessments.

Campaigners say that China has an exemplary set of environmental protection legislation, but that close ties between industry and officials mean that it is rarely enforced at a local level.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Grace Kei Lai-see for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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