Chinese officials bow to protests against factory
Ningbo: Thousands of protesters who marched through an eastern Chinese city on Sunday against the expansion of a petrochemical factory won a pledge from the local government that the project would be halted.
The protest, which comes at a sensitive time in China's political calendar, had swelled over the weekend and led to clashes between citizens and police. The Ningbo city government said in a statement today evening that they and the project's investor had "resolutely" agreed not to go ahead with the expansion.
Outside the government offices where crowds of protesters remained, an official tried to read the statement on a loudspeaker but was drowned out by shouts demanding the mayor step down. On the third attempt, the crowd briefly cheered but then turned back to demanding that authorities release protesters being held inside.
Liu Li, 24, a Ningbo resident, said the crowd did not believe the government's statement. "There is very little public confidence in the government," she said. "Who knows if they are saying this just to make us leave and then keep on doing the project."
The city government was likely under great pressure to defuse the protest with China's leadership wanting calm for a party congress next month at which the country's new leaders will be named. It was unclear whether local authorities will ultimately cancel the project or continue it when the pressure is lower.
Hundreds of protesters outside the government offices refused to budge despite being urged to leave by officials. Riot police with helmets and shields then came out of the government compound and pushed the crowd back.
Some people including families ran away.
Police dragged six men and one woman into the compound, beating and kicking at least three of them. Police also smashed placards and took away flags. The crowd roared for the protesters' release.
The demonstration in wealthy Zhejiang province is the latest this year over fears of health risks from industrial projects, as Chinese who have seen their living standards improve become more outspoken against environmentally risky projects in their areas.
"The government hides information from the people. They are only interested in scoring political points and making money," said one protester, Luo Luan. "They don't care about destroying the environment or damaging people's lives."
The protests began a few days earlier in the coastal district of Zhenhai, where the petrochemical factory is located. Yesterday they swelled and spread to the center of Ningbo city, whose officials oversee Zhenhai.