Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong said on Thursday they will "track down" the leaders of a mass protest that gathered outside government offices in protest over plans to build a waste incinerator near their homes.
Tens of thousands of residents of Qianshui township near Guangdong's Wuchuan city gathered outside government offices on Wednesday, calling on the government to cancel plans to build a waste incinerator near their homes.
Clashes broke out between protesters and police after riot police were drafted in to disperse the crowd, local sources said.
The director of the Wuchuan municipal government press office, who gave only his surname Huang, said the hunt is now on for the protest's organizers.
"Today we are going to be tracking down the leaders, and finding out who paid for all these banners, and who is behind it, because we have to get this straight," Huang said, adding: "There will probably be some developments in a few days' time."
"These villagers surrounded the township government offices, kicking up a fuss, and they stuck their handbills everywhere, and they were carrying banners," he said.
Huang dismissed concerns that the plant might pollute the surrounding area.
"That's really not likely at all," Huang said. "We haven't built it yet, or even broken ground on it. There isn't a plan or a schematic yet, and we haven't had the conclusions back from the environmental
He added: "They are just coming here to cause trouble."
No consultation process
A resident of Qianshui township surnamed Feng said the protest had begun peacefully enough.
"We went to protest outside the township government [on Wednesday] morning, and they didn't send any police until the afternoon," he told RFA on Thursday.
"Then they sent traffic cops and riot police with weapons and there were some clashes at the intersection, and they dragged some people away," Feng said.
He added: "No officials came out, and then they said there'd be a village committee meeting, where they said they are definitely going to build this, and that there won't be any pollution, and that they have already signed the contract with the developer."
A local resident surnamed Tang said the government hadn't consulted local people before making the decision.
"There has been no consultation process, nor any communication with local people," he said. "Now that people have found out about these plans, they are opposing them."
"They are worried about the environment and the air pollution and foul gases, and they are demanding that it be halted. It will have a bad effect on Qianshui township and other townships under Huazhou city," Tang said.
"This was the first demonstration we had, and there will probably be more coming soon."
An official who answered the phone at the Qianshui township government offices declined to comment on Wednesday. "I don't know about this; you'll have to get our leaders to answer you," the official said.
Villagers said via social media that the planned incinerator will be located upstream of their homes, and fear it will affect their crops and orchards.
A resident surnamed Huang who took part in the protest said villagers are conerned that carcigenic substances will leach into the air, soil and water, if the plant goes ahead.
"There were 20,000 or 30,000 people there," Huang said. "All of the villagers turned out."
"[The police] cracked down on it, and were beating people."
Asked how the government responded to the protest, Huang said: "They didn't respond."
A resident surnamed Zhou said he was too old to protest, but that he still opposes the planned incinerator.
"An incinerator would have a terrible effect on Qianshui, and things got pretty heated here yesterday," Zhou said.
The Qianshui protest comes a few weeks after thousands took to the streets of Langtang township near Guangdong's Yunfu city over similar plans by their local government.
Decades of rapid economic growth have left Guangdong with a rapidly growing waste disposal problem, but attempts to build incinerators in the province have drawn widespread criticism over local government access to the huge potential profits from subsidies linked to waste-disposal projects.
Meanwhile, the province's seriously degraded environment has prompted a fast-maturing environmental movement to emerge among the region's middle classes and farming communities alike.
Campaigners have raised growing concerns over the falsification of pollution testing and environmental impact assessments, amid worsening levels of air and water pollution and widespread disputes over the effects on children's health of heavy metals from mining and industry.
Environmentalists say Chinese environmental protection laws are well-drafted but seldom implemented, thanks to a proliferation of vested interests and collusion between local governments and business.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.