A company in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang has issued a public apology following several days of mass protests over pollution from its solar panel factory, vowing to clean up its act after hundreds of people rioted at one of its facilities.
"Zhejiang Jinko has always paid a great deal of attention to environmental issues and complies with and follows the state's relevant demands," company spokesman Jing Zhaohui told a news conference on Monday.
"In the course of doing so, this incident still happened, and we cannot shirk responsibility for the legal consequences which have come from management slips," he added.
The company "sincerely apologizes" and will take "appropriate" steps to clear up the pollution, Jing said.
Police in Haining have detained at least 20 people after hundreds of local residents stormed the factory, which is owned by New York-listed Jinko Solar Holding Co., official media reported.
Health concerns ignored
Residents of nearby Hongshao village said on Friday that many local residents were angry about chronic health problems they said were linked to the solar panel factory.
Updates posted on popular microblogging sites last week said that around 1,000 households live within a 300-meter radius of the plant, and that nearby fish-farms and livestock had been affected.
Official media said that a villager surnamed Sun was detained for "dissemination of false information" for commenting online that local villagers had suffered an unusually high incidence of cancer.
A resident surnamed Zhou said on Monday that the authorities have ignored the villagers' health concerns.
"The government didn't carry out an in-depth investigation into pollution and then deal with the problem," Zhou said. "Instead, they detained someone for posting updates about the incident online, saying he was circulating rumors."
"This is clearly serious oppression and persecution," Zhou said. "The villagers were also beaten up when they tried to demonstrate."
Popular anger at the plant erupted on Thursday after large numbers of fish were killed in a nearby river, with protesters overturning vehicles before being dispersed, official media reported.
An employee who answered the phone at the Haining municipal police department said there had been no further unrest, however.
"There haven't been any more mass incidents," she said. "Everything is calm and peaceful and nothing is happening here now."
Jing also apologized for the "improper" treatment of some local reporters who had equipment smashed when they went to cover the protest, saying the people responsible had been dismissed and handed over to the law.
Nanjing-based veteran journalist and blogger Zan Aizong said some local journalists who had tried to cover the villagers' complaints had also been beaten up, suggesting that local officials were protecting the company.
"This factory is a large source of profits and taxation [for the local government]," Zan said.
"Behind the scenes, someone from the local government must have been supporting it, or else they would never have dared to beat up journalists from the [state-run] Zhejiang TV station."
"Journalists are very vulnerable at a time like this," Zan said, adding that those who had been 'handed over to the law' would likely receive a fine and a few days' administrative detention before being released.
Officials warned recently that China is facing a "grave" environmental crisis, with more than half its cities affected by acid rain and one-sixth of its major rivers too polluted even to water crops with.
Three decades of breakneck economic growth have taken their toll on the country's natural resources, sparking a huge increase in public unrest linked to environmental degradation and health problems caused by pollution.
Last week, authorities in Shanghai halted production at two battery-making plants in its business district of Pudong, after local parents said their children were suffering from lead poisoning.
Reported by An Pei for RFA's Mandarin service and by Fung Yat-yiu for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.