Authorities in the southwestern Chinese region of Guangxi are holding at least 10 people following clashes with gemstone workers over re-zoning of the city's industrial area, protesters said on Wednesday.
Residents of Guangxi's Wuzhou city have been up in arms in recent years over noise and pollution from the densely packed workshops and studios that make up the city's world leading synthetic gemstone industry.
On Tuesday, gem-workers fought back with a mass protest against government orders to move workshops to the outskirts of the city, sparking clashes with riot police that left at least two people in hospital and at least 10 in police custody.
Around 1,000 gemstone workers marched to the Wuzhou municipal government offices on Tuesday in protest at plans to force them to relocate to an area where residential rents are high and where schools are few and far between, they told RFA.
Photos of the protest obtained by RFA showed large crowds gathered outside the gates of government buildings in Wuzhou, holding a banner that read "You cut our power and evicted us -- you violated our human rights!"
"They cut off our electricity supply and so we demonstrated outside the city government," a protester and gemstone worker surnamed Bai said on Wednesday.
"There were clashes with the riot police, perhaps because there was some shoving at the back, and that forced the people at the front forwards," he said.
"They got beaten up by the riot police."
Bai said all the police in the city had been dispatched to the scene.
"Two or three people wound up in the hospital, one of them with a broken arm," he said. "They detained more than 10 people, who haven't come back yet."
Bai said the trouble began after Wuzhou authorities announced last year that the workshops located in the densely populated "Gemstone City" would have to relocate to the suburbs following more than 150 complaints from nearby residents about noise and pollution.
Plans rushed through
A second gemstone workshop owner surnamed Su said that while the industry welcomed the government's rezoning plans, they were being rushed through without adequate infrastructure in place.
"They want us all to relocate to the suburbs, where they have allocated 10 manufacturing zones for us," Su said. "But all of the supporting infrastructure isn't in place, and not all of the
facilities are suited to our work, so they are useless."
"Also, it is a long way out of town, so it will be very inconvenient for our kids to get to school, and for us to visit a doctor, and other stuff like that," he said.
A third workshop owner surnamed Huang said landlords in the newly zoned industrial area had also taken advantage of the situation to hike rents beyond affordable levels.
"The rents are too high and the workshop facilities are just low, corrugated iron shacks that have been hastily converted," Huang said.
"The infrastructure just isn't there, and the rents are even higher than for properly equipped workshops," he said.
"The [gemstone workshops] don't want to move, but the government says we are affecting the environment, so they are forcibly evicting us," Huang added.
An official who answered the phone at the Wuzhou municipal government offices on Wednesday said the rents were dictated by "market forces," not by the government.
"We are cleaning up this industry in order to serve local people," the official said. "We aren't trying to make people's lives more difficult; it's because we are besieged with complaints."
A local resident surnamed Chen said local people are tired of being disturbed by round-the-clock gem-cutting operations.
"I think it's reasonable to expect that they shouldn't operate when people are sleeping," she said.
"They shouldn't work too late in the evenings, either, but sometimes they go on until 11.00 p.m. or midnight."
"They are noisy and stop people sleeping," Chen said. "There should be a limit on their working hours."
The gemstone cutting industry in Wuzhou accounts for more than half of the global market in synthetic stones like zirconia, expanding rapidly in the past 20 years from a cluster of home-based workshops in the downtown area, according to the industry website Furong Gems.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.