MAC: Mines and Communities

China copper factory construction halted amid violent protests

Published by MAC on 2012-07-11
Source: BBC News, PlanetArk (2012-07-06)

China factory construction halted amid violent protests

BBC News

3 July 2012

Chinese officials have halted the construction of a copper alloy plant in Sichuan province following violent protests by local residents.

Local residents march with banners during a protest along a street in Shifang, Sichuan province
Local residents march during a protest along a street in
Shifang, Sichuan province July 3, 2012. Photo: Stringer, Reuters

Local officials said large crowds of residents gathered on Sunday and Monday in Shifang city to protest against the plant on environmental grounds.

Both police and residents were injured in the clashes as bottles were thrown and cars damaged, they said.

Officials said they would now consult residents on the project.

Local authorities said hundreds of residents and students were involved in the protests, while state-run Global Times, quoting an unnamed police officer, said "several thousand" took part.

A statement on the incident on the city's Sina Weibo account said the government would not restart the project "until the majority of people support it".

"Work teams will be sent to all communities and schools to listen to people's opinions and suggestions," they added.

But one woman in Shifang told the BBC that the streets were still "completely chaotic", with the government sending out "lots of armed police and riot police". People were still gathered in front of the city government office, she added.

"The whole thing started with students. Shifang was to build something harmful for future generations, so the people felt very uncomfortable about it," she said.

Injured protesters

The Shifang city government said 13 protesters were injured and sent to hospital on Monday after police dispersed the crowd with tear gas.

"Some people gathered outside the government building and began to throw bricks and water bottles at the building, government workers and police officers from 13:30, resulting in some injuries to police officers," the city government said.

On Tuesday, Shifang police issued a warning to protesters.

"Anyone who has incited, planned or organised illegal gatherings, protest marches or demonstrations or those who have engaged in smashing and looting... will be punished severely," it said in a statement.

The statement also warned people against using the internet or text messages to organise "illegal gatherings".

Photos showing injured protesters were circulating online, but these could not be independently verified.

This is not the first time that protests over the environmental impact of heavy industry plants have broken out in China.

In recent years, the public has become more aware of its rights - and more vocal when it comes to issues of public health.

While China has achieved astonishing economic growth in the past few decades, it has come at a huge environmental cost.

The country's growing middle class worry about air and water pollution. They are concerned about the impact it will have on their children and are increasingly prepared to protest.

Last year, the authorities were forced to close a chemical plant in the north-eastern city of Dalian following similar protests.

Authorities face a huge challenge - they must balance the demand for continued economic growth against rising public anger over pollution.


China city scraps alloy plant after protests

By Sui-Lee Wee and Ben Blanchard

PlanetArk

4 July 2012

A Chinese city scrapped plans for a copper alloy plant on Tuesday after three days of protests by residents who feared it would poison them, in the latest unrest spurred by environmental concerns in the world's second-largest economy.

The government of Shifang in the southwest Sichuan province, which initially said it would only suspend the project by Shanghai-listed Sichuan Hongda, caved in to pressure and announced the project would be stopped.

"The molybdenum-copper alloy factory will no longer be built in Shifang city," it said in a statement on its official Sina Weibo microblogging site.

"At present, the ... mass incident has basically been brought under control, and the majority of people have dispersed," it added, using a common government term for protests.

Protests turned violent on Monday when tens of thousands of residents stormed the city government headquarters, smashed police cars and clashed with thousands of anti-riot police, according to Hong Kong media.

"We have so many people in Shifang. We aren't afraid of them (the authorities)," an 18-year-old saleswoman, who declined to be identified, told Reuters by telephone from Shifang before the government announcement. "The Shifang people will definitely not surrender".

She accused the police of beating protesters on Monday night. Police were not immediately available for comment.

Chinese environmental campaigners have successfully challenged a number of industrial projects in recent years.

Activists have repeatedly called for greater public consultation in the tightly controlled one-party state where leaders are obsessed with maintaining stability while fostering economic growth.

In August 2011, thousands of protesters forced the closure of a deadly paraxylene plant after marching on the city square in Dalian in northeastern China.

The Xiamen authorities in southeastern Fujian province were forced to scrap a similar project in 2008 after thousands of people in the city took to the streets the previous year.

"Incitement"

Pictures sent to Reuters on Tuesday showed young people carrying red banners reading "Get rid of the Hongda molybdenum plant, return beautiful new Shifang to me". A second picture showed riot police surrounding a small group of protesters outside a post office.

At least 13 people were injured on Monday when police used teargas to disperse the crowd, the city government said. It said there were no deaths, but Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper and a resident reported that one high school student had died.

The government said it would be lenient toward people who surrendered within three days for their roles in organizing the protest, but others would be "severely punished".

Sichuan Hongda, one of China's biggest zinc and lead producers, issued a statement on Tuesday maintaining that it was a government-approved project.

The government has accused the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong and the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama of fomenting the protests, which started on July 1, the birthday of the Chinese Communist Party.

(Additional reporting by Huang Yan in Beijing, Sisi Tang and Clarie Lee in Hong Kong; Editing by Daniel Magnowski and Andrew Heavens)


China stops copper plant, frees 21 after protests

By Ben Blanchard

PlanetArk

6 July 2012

Authorities in a southwestern Chinese city halted construction of a copper refinery following protests by residents that it would poison them, and freed most of the people who were detained after a clash with police over the row.

Both decisions are highly unusual in the tightly controlled nation, but underline the depth of public anger against environmental pollution.

Thousands of people in the southwestern city of Shifang had taken to the streets over the past three days against the government's plans to allow building of the $1.6 billion plant, the latest unrest spurred by environmental concerns in the world's second-largest economy.

The Shifang government said police had "forcibly taken away 27 suspected criminals" on Monday and Tuesday for tearing down the door of the municipal government building, smashing windows, and throwing bricks and stones at police and government workers.

Six are still in police custody, the city government said in a statement on its official Sina Weibo microblogging site.

"The remaining 21 people, after receiving criticism and education and repenting for their mistakes, were released at 11 p.m. on July 3," it said.

On Tuesday night, the local government said it was halting the metals project planned by Shanghai-listed Sichuan Hongda. The city initially had said it would only suspend the project.

However, on Wednesday afternoon, about 100 people remained gathered in the street outside the city's Communist Party headquarters, some fanning themselves in the heat of the midday sun. A resident surnamed Chen told Reuters that the people were relatives of those still detained.

"People are still waiting to see if the government follows through on its promise not to build the plant," said the man. "There will be more protests if we are not convinced."

Nearby, large-screen televisions repeatedly showed an interview with a local official promising that the building of the plant would now not go ahead.

Loudspeakers, scattered around the centre of town, broadcast the government's oft-repeated statements about not believing rumors or to be led astray by "people with ulterior motives".

Despite the dual concessions, some Chinese called for the punishment of officials responsible for the violent crackdown. An 18-year-old resident told Reuters by telephone on Tuesday the police had beaten protesters the previous night.

"What are we going to do about the bastards who used violence on innocent people?" wrote a microblogger.

Sea of People

Photos of Tuesday night's sit-in protest published on microblogs showed a large crowd sitting down under street lamps, in what one microblogger described as "a sea of people" demanding the release of those detained.

The protests turned violent on Monday when tens of thousands of residents stormed the city government headquarters, smashed police cars and clashed with thousands of anti-riot police, who fired tear gas on protesters.

"Everyone is scared by this project," said Luo Meili, who works in her family restaurant near the industrial zone outside Shifang where the factory was set to be built.

"It will harm our families' health. We don't believe what the government says."

According to the International Finance Corp, an arm of the World Bank, copper smelting and refining can produce mercury, sulphur dioxide, arsenic and other pollutants.

The latest protest underscores how environmental worries in China have stoked calls for expanded rights for citizens and greater consultation. They follow similar demonstrations against projects in the cities of Dalian in the northeast and Haimen in southern Guangdong province in the past year.

The protests are emblematic of the rising discontent facing Chinese leaders, who are obsessed with maintaining stability and struggling to balance growth with rising public anger over environmental threats.

The leadership has vowed to clean up China's skies and waterways, and increasingly tried to appear responsive to complaints about pollution. But environmental disputes pit citizens against local officials whose aim is to lure fresh investment and revenue into their areas.

"The best of you emigrate, the worst of you are shot," China's most famous blogger, Han Han, wrote on his blog, addressing Shifang officials. "But none of you actually live in the pollution. Only ordinary people live there."

"Shifang" remained the most searched term on China's Twitter-like microblogs on Wednesday. Chinese authorities, who are usually quick to suppress dissent, did not block searches related to the protests.

"It is the 4th of July - 236 years ago America achieved independence, and 236 years later the Shifang people are fighting for their own rights and confronting the government," a microblogger wrote. "The government has repeatedly squandered the people's patience. It is time for us to be independent."

(Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Writing by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Ken Wills and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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