Clashes Over Chemical Plant

Residents of a village near the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing are up in arms over plans to build a chemical plant that will use a known carcinogen.

2008-06-18
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ChongqingChemicalPlant305.jpg CHONGQING, China: A worker inspects the scene of an explosion at a chemical plant in Chongqing municipality's Dianjiang county, southwest China, in 2005.
AFP photo

HONG KONG—Villagers living near the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing say four people are in police custody after clashes that erupted as they tried to block a chemical plant from being built near their homes.

Clashes have flared twice in recent weeks after police tried to set up an electricity pylon to supply the factory, run by the Chongqing Balong Chemical Co.

“On May 29, more than a dozen policemen came to our village to set up the electricity pole. We stopped them and told them that the project cannot start until we have had a proper consultation,” a protester surnamed Yang said.

“Many villagers clashed with police, with one villager injured. Last Wednesday, more than 50 people came to our village again and tried forcefully to carry out their task. Two government officials even joined in beating up our villagers,” he added.

“Eight villagers were taken to the local police station and two had to go to hospital.”

The plant will use a benzene compound known as toluene as an industrial solvent in the production of synthetic rubber and industrial adhesives at the proposed plant. Benzene is a known carcinogen.

But an official at the nearby Yulong township government, who identified himself as Propaganda Office Director Chen, said authorities would closely monitor the project.

“This project hasn’t started production yet. Furthermore, the project will be subjected to tough scrutiny by the relevant environmental protection agencies in this locality,” he said.  “If the plant’s waste products or gases have an adverse effect on the environment, then it definitely will not be allowed to proceed.”

Residents want assessment

Villagers say they want a full environmental assessment and consultation process before the plant is allowed to proceed. But they say the government refuses to engage with them.

“What we are asking for is that it be moved farther from our village,” Yufeng village chief Yang Xuecai said. “If that won’t do, then we are asking for an environmental impact assessment and stronger measures in place in advance to protect villagers.”

"We have reported the whole process to the county government. And what you are telling me is a very one-sided story.”
Yulong township Party secretary Yuan Duolun

“But the government refuses to do this. It won’t have a dialogue with us at all, because the tax revenue from such a company will be very high for the government.”

Villagers say around 800 villagers would be living around the factory, with more than 30 people’s homes located within 50 meters of the plant.

Beaten by police

One villager detained by police said he was beaten and told to sign documents admitting wrongdoing.

“There were four policemen who detained me. They dragged me into the back of the vehicle. Then two left. The other two gave me a pummeling on my back as if they were playing the drums,” he said.

“Once inside the police station, they tried to force me to sign a confession of my ‘wrongdoing.’ I refused to sign, so they beat me again."

A police officer who answered the phone at the Yulong township police station declined to comment.

“You need to come here with the relevant identification before we can talk to you. On the phone, we have no way of verifying your identity,” he said.

Official denial

Meanwhile, Yulong township Party secretary Yuan Duolun denied the allegations that officials had attacked villagers during the clashes. “Such an event as you claim, that I beat up villagers, never happened,” he said.

“We have reported the whole process to the county government. And what you are telling me is a very one-sided story.”

Original reporting in Mandarin by Yan Xiu and in Cantonese by Grace Kei Lai-see. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and Jia Yuan. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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