Thursday, July 15, 2010

China: village residents clash with police over land grabs and factory pollution

Residents confront police at the factory site in Jingxi county.

More than 1,000 people threw rocks at police and blocked roads in southern China in protest at pollution from a plant owned by one of the country's largest private aluminium producers, state media said on Thursday.

The Chinese government has become increasingly worried about rising public anger at environmental problems, especially pollution.

The official China Daily said that in the latest incident, more than 1,000 villagers in Jingxi county, in Guangxi near the border with Vietnam, took to the streets on Tuesday to protest against the Shandong Xinfa Aluminum and Power Group plant.

"Almost all the residents in Lingwan village were involved in blocking the road to Jingxi county on Tuesday afternoon, and some villagers threw stones at police who had been sent by the Jingxi government," it cited a government statement as saying.

"One official hit by stones was sent to the hospital, but no other injuries were reported," the newspaper added.

Residents also blocked the gates to the plant and damaged some production facilities before dispersing.

"Villagers have been very unhappy for a long time about the pollution caused by the plant," it quoted local government official Qin Weifeng as saying.

The newspaper said the Xinfa is one of the three largest producers in Jingxi, in an area known for production of bauxite and alumina, the raw material for aluminium. China's rapid growth has caused many environmental problems, and prompted growing concern among citizens about health problems caused by pollution.

A local resident said a large number of villagers circled the aluminum factory in Guangxi’s Jingxi county in the afternoon as employees were constructing a road nearby.

“The whole river is totally polluted [by the factory]. In addition to this, the government is helping [the factory] to grab land from us at a very low price. Even if you don’t want to sell, you’re forced to,” Huang said.

He said villagers could no longer control their anger when factory owners took land to construct the road, leading to the confrontation which lasted through Monday.

“We were not willing to accept this, so we fought with them. They beat any villagers on the scene, even villagers aged 60 and 70 years old. Several people were left dead and more than 100 were injured. I don’t know the exact figures,” he said.

He said an even larger group of protesters tried to walk from the village to the county government office Tuesday to demonstrate over the number of casualties from the clash.

“On [Tuesday], we had more people. [Thousands of] villagers clashed with the police when they would not let us go to the county government office. They used tear gas, and we threw stones at them. There were only minor injuries this time,” he said.

He added that the clashes were set off following a number of complaints by residents that had not been addressed by local officials.

“The clashes were triggered by many things. One is environmental pollution. Another is the land grab. The third is [recent] flooding,” Huang said.

“The flooding was very serious, but the government has not taken any action for a few months now. The villagers had a lot of complaints, and the situation finally exploded.”

"Mass incidents" -- or riots and protests -- sparked by environmental problems have been rising at a rate of 30 percent per year, according to China's environmental protection minister.

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