More than 10,000 residents staged a protest at the weekend against a planned waste incinerator power plant near their homes in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong and warned Monday of further mass demonstrations if the project is not scrapped.
Thousands of protesters from 11 villages have marched to government offices in Jinzao township near the coastal city of Shantou in the east of Guangdong in recent days, but the biggest demonstration swelled to more than 10,000 on Saturday, local residents said.
Holding placards and banners which read, "Oppose the government's building of a waste incinerator power plant," and "safeguard villagers and their environment," protesters gathered outside the gates of the township government, chanting slogans.
Local people are totally opposed to the project, which they fear will damage their health, a protester who gave only her surname, Liu, told RFA.
"The villagers are worried that this [plant] will cause pollution," she said.
"They rely on farming to make a living, and if the water table becomes polluted, they won't be able to farm, whatever happens," Liu added. "Then there is the problem of cancer."
She said "most" of the combined population of more than 20,000 had taken part in protests against the incinerator, but that local officials had been unavailable to talk to protesters.
"I reckon they were all hiding," she said. "The villagers are saying that if work resumes on the project [on Tuesday], they are preparing an even bigger demonstration .. .in which the villagers will obstruct construction."
Something to gain?
A second protester surnamed Lin said there was a widespread suspicion that local officials have something to gain from the project.
"The incinerator will concentrate huge amounts of garbage in one place, and if there is a wind, it will blow the stink across all of our villages," he said.
"There will be large numbers of garbage trucks coming and going, which will also cause a disturbance," Lin added.
A protester surnamed Qiu who took part in Saturday's protest said the size of the demonstration indicated the strength of public feeling against the project.
"This incinerator is a terrible thing," he said. "There is a township in our area that has an incinerator that specializes in power cables and plastics, and everyone in that town has got the same disease."
"This will affect the air, the next generation, every individual," Qiu said.
He added: "When we marched to the gates of the government buildings, the gates were shut, and all the government officials were standing there inside the gates, watching."
An official who answered the phone at the Jinzao township government offices on Monday declined to comment.
"I really don't know whether the authorities are planning to cancel the plant or to go ahead with it," the official said. "I'm just the duty officer."
"I have had no information about this whatsoever."
An employee who answered the phone at the Chaoyang district government in nearby Shantou, which administers Jinzao, also declined to comment.
"I can't provide you with any information on this matter," the employee said. "Please call the propaganda department."
Repeated calls to the Chaoyang district propaganda department rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.
And an officer who answered the phone at the Jinzao township police department declined to comment, saying he was unable to confirm journalists' identities over the phone.
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.
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.
Last August, 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 Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Fung Yat-yiu for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.