Protests Grow in China's Guangdong Amid Police Crackdown, Information Blackout

china-feilaixia-050917.jpg Residents protest against planned waste incinerator in Feilaixia township, Guangdong, May 9, 2017.
Photo sent by an RFA listener

Protests in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong against a planned waste incinerator plant escalated on Tuesday with local residents shutting up businesses and students striking from class in spite of a huge security presence.

Some 20,000 residents of Feilaixia township near Guangdong's Qingyuan city took to the streets following several days of protests and in spite of clashes with riot police.

Shops were shuttered and high-school students ditched class to swell protest ranks on Tuesday in spite of police efforts to cordon off the schools.

Chanting "Protest! Protest! Protest!" and holding up banners and placards, the demonstrators appeared peaceful, while residents said police had detained more than 300 people in recent days.

"The entire city is shut down today; taxis and shops, other businesses, everyone is out on strike," a Feilaixia resident surnamed Xie told RFA on Tuesday. "You couldn't even get a bowl of wonton noodles if you wanted to."

"The kids didn't go to school, and there are about 20,000 people outside the township government offices right now in a huge protest march."

He said protesters appeared to be digging in for a long wait.

"They are holding up banners ... local people have mobilized to help; there are vehicles distributing food and water to [protesters] in case they get faint," Xie said. "We have also brought bottled water and biscuits with us."

Several thousand people had remained on the streets overnight in spite of police attempts to disperse them, Xie said.

"There were probably around 1,000 police officers ... they have the whole place surrounded, and police officers were breaking windows and detained ... people who took part in the protests, men, women, even kids," he said.

"All the people who started the protest are now in detention."

Focus on township

A second Feilaixia resident surnamed Du said a massive security cordon around the Qingyuan municipal government offices means the protest is now focused on the Feilaixia township government instead.

"The authorities have sealed off all the roads, so we're not going into the city," Du said. "When they all came back from the city, the police were checking everyone's ID, and they were detaining anyone who came from Feilaixia township."

"Now we're out on strike, both from our businesses and the students from school," she said. "If our protests have no effect on the township government, then maybe we'll head back into the city again."

"We don't really know how to use legal channels to fight for our rights, and the authorities have imposed an information blackout," Du said.

"One journalist told me today that they'd like to get into the township to cover the story, but they couldn't get past the roadblocks."

A resident surnamed He said the authorities also appear to have pulled the plug on local access to the internet.

"There is very tight [online] surveillance, because when we tried to post a video to a local friends group [on WeChat], it was immediately deleted," she said.

"We want the government to shelve its plans to build a waste incinerator power plant."

Government won't talk

Another resident surnamed Zhao said not all high-school students had taken part, however. "It's just some high-schoolers," he said.

"Some of them have banners, but some of the schools have prevented their students from attending, so they can't get here."

"So far, none of our local government leaders have come out to talk to us," he said. "The place looks like a crime scene, there are so many police here."

A protester surnamed Liang said nobody had come out of the government buildings to talk to the crowd.

"There are thousands of us outside the government offices, and yet not one person has come out to talk," he said. "It's not as if they have started work on the incinerator plant."

He agreed with the estimate that as many as 300 people had been detained since the start of the protests in early May.

"Some of them were given administrative sentences of 10 days," he said, referring to a short-term sentence that police can issue without the need for a trial.

Repeated calls to the Feilaixia township and the Qingyuan municipal governments rang unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.

Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Ding Wenqi for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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