Thousands Protest, Blockade Waste Plant Construction in China's Guangdong

2015-12-16
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Residents of Puning gather ahead of a protest march to the construction site of a planned waste incinerator, Dec. 15, 2015.
Residents of Puning gather ahead of a protest march to the construction site of a planned waste incinerator, Dec. 15, 2015.
Photo courtesy of a Puning resident

Protesters in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong on Wednesday tried to blockade construction work of a waste incineration plant they say will put the health of tens of thousands of local residents at risk.

Several hundred residents gathered outside the construction site for the plant, where work is ongoing in Yunluo township near Guangdong's Puning city, a local resident surnamed Lu told RFA.

"This will have a huge impact, and there are more than 100,000 people here who are opposed to it," Lu said.

He said residents are particularly concerned about the pollution of local soil, air and water with the carcinogenic by-products of plastic incineration.

"It is a huge threat to our health to build a trash plant here, and it will have a massive effect on future generations, too, with cancer and so on," Lu said.

A second protester surnamed Xu said public opposition to the plant sparked a mass demonstration on Tuesday.

"A lot of people went out to demonstrate, because they are worried about their health, because the black smoke that comes out of these places is ... harmful and carcinogenic," Xu said.

"I think you can say that 70-80 percent of our village turned out."

He said local people are particularly angry because the plant was given the go-ahead by local officials without any public consultation.

"They never even communicated with local people, but just went right ahead unilaterally, and started building the incinerator," Xu said.

"A lot of people turned out for the march, with red flags."

Photos of the march uploaded to the popular chat site QQ showed thousands of people, young and old, many of them waving the national flag of China, with rows of police vehicles parked nearby, while police shouted at the crowd through a megaphone.

Others showed a police line protecting the construction site.

A resident surnamed Zhang said residents were shouting "We love Yunluo! Protect the environment!" and that scuffles took place between police and the crowd.

"I heard that some older people were injured, but not very seriously, which is inevitable with all the pushing and shoving," Zhang said. "Even people 70- or 80-years-old went along."

Lu said some high school students had boycotted class to attend the protests on Tuesday, while others had been locked up by the school principal.

"Some of the kids wanted to come out in protest, but then their school principal held them under lock and key, so they couldn't," Lu said.

Suspected corruption

A woman whose home is close to the construction site, who gave only a nickname, Xian Jie, said many local people suspect government officials of profiting personally from the project.

"The head of our village never held any meeting with us to decide on this, because the village officials all take bribes and other forms of corruption," Xian Jie said.

"They sold our village out for personal gain," she said.

An official who answered the phone at the Puning municipal government offices on Wednesday said the government is aware of the dispute.

"The relevant departments are handling this matter," the official said. "But I don't know any of the details."

An official who answered the phone at the Yunluo township government offices on Wednesday said the waste incinerator would definitely go ahead.

"This has been decided by our leaders, at the provincial level," the official said. "They said that [it absolutely must be built]."

Last month, authorities near Guangdong's Shantou city fired tear gas at protesters angry over plans to build a similar waste incinerator plant near their homes amid violent clashes involving police in full riot gear.

Several dozen villages around Shantou's Jinzao township have been protesting against plans for the plant for nearly two years, after local officials tried to move ahead with the planned project without the consent of local people.

Previous attempts to build similar plants elsewhere in the province have drawn widespread criticism over local government access to the huge potential profits linked to waste disposal projects.

More than three decades of breakneck economic growth have left Guangdong with a seriously degraded environment, causing a fast-maturing environmental movement to emerge among the region's middle classes and farming communities alike.

Last year, authorities in Guangdong's Puzhai township said they would cancel plans to build a waste-incineration plant there following angry protests and violent clashes between demonstrators and police.

Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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