Chinese Children Ditch School Amid Guangdong Incinerator Protest

2015-04-08
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Residents of Langtang protest outside the gates of the Huarun Cement Factory in Guangdong province, April 7, 2015.
Residents of Langtang protest outside the gates of the Huarun Cement Factory in Guangdong province, April 7, 2015.
Photo courtesy of a protester

Primary school children boycotted class in Langtang township near Guangdong's Yunfu city on Wednesday, joining a continuing protest by thousands of residents over plans to build a waste incinerator plant near their homes, residents said.

Tensions remained high in the township amid ongoing police detentions by night and a growing security presence on local streets, they said.

Thousands of Langtang residents had initially protested outside the gates of the Huarun Cement Factory, but have since turned the focus of their protest towards the local government since being forced away from the site on Tuesday, local sources told RFA.

"[The class boycott] has gone on for two days now," a Langtang resident surnamed Wu told RFA, adding that security in the surrounding towns and villages remains tight.

"Yesterday evening, they came into our village to arrest people," Wu said. "Today, there is a police guard surrounding several villages."

"There are still a lot of people gathered in [Langtang] township," he said.

A second resident surnamed Zhang said tensions remained high in Langtang after the government failed to release protesters detained in Monday's clashes, as promised.

"The government is sending people here to make arrests, the police have entered two villages and made arrests," Zhang said.

"The government told us that if we left the cement factory, they would release them half an hour afterwards, but they still haven't released them, even after we left," he said.

He said some 1,000 extra police had been drafted in to reinforce those already in Langtang.

"There are an extra 1,000 police in the township now, and more than 20 police vehicles at the cement factory," Zhang said.

Pledge to 'shelve' project

Local authorities issued a statement late on Tuesday pledging to shelve the planned incinerator, and calling on local residents not to "take extreme action."

But Zhang said local people were suspicious of the vague language used in the announcement, and believed the government would revive the project quietly later on.

"There's no mention of the waste incinerator project in the announcement; it doesn't use those exact words," Zhang said. "It just says waste management."

"Also, it says the project will be shelved, not canceled."

An employee who answered the phone at the Langtang township government offices on Wednesday declined to comment on the protests.

"Did they arrest people? I don't really know about that," the official said.

"I'm just a low-level functionary here, so I don't know."

According to local people, dozens of people were injured and detained in clashes between police and protesters on Monday, after riot police used batons to attack the crowd, including children.

Residents who live within a 2- to 3-kilometer (1.2- to 1.9-mile) radius of the plant, say they fear toxic pollution if the garbage incinerator is built there.

Others say they are angry that the authorities went ahead with plans for the plant without consulting local residents.

Plant fire

Environmental activist Chen Faqing, commenting on a recent fire at a petrochemical plant in the southeastern province of Fujian, said air pollution is a form of chronic suicide for China.

"Habitual and long-term exposure to air pollution can have a huge effect on all the organs of the body, especially harmful gases, which can be absorbed through the capillaries, and cause cancer," Chen said.

"These harmful gases can take 50-200 years to disappear from the air we breathe," Chen said. "It's not just a question of a few years."

The fire, which caused a massive blast on Tuesday at the Tenglong Aromatic Hydrocarbon (Zhangzhou) Co. on Fujian's Gulei peninsula, rekindled once more on Wednesday morning, before being extinguished once again by rescue crews, official media reported.

Worsening levels of air and water pollution, as well as disputes over the effects of heavy metals from mining and industry have sparked a growing wave of mass public protests linked to environmental protection in recent years.

Campaigners have raised growing concerns over the falsification of pollution testing and environmental impact assessments.

Activists say China has a comprehensive body of environmental protection laws, but that vested interests and collusion between local governments and business mean they are rarely properly enforced.

Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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