Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong promised to release five villagers detained after four days of violent protests over pollution from a local power plant, official media reported in the wake of renewed clashes between protesters and police firing tear-gas.
Around 600 protesters continued their blockage of the national highway near Haimen township near Shantou, in the eastern part of the province on Friday, local residents said.
Protesters handed out leaflets near a toll booth calling on supporters to: "Protect our green hometown, oppose the construction of [the second] power station, and release the innocent citizens of Haimen who have been detained."
Hong Kong television footage showed further clashes with the hundreds of armed police stationed on the expressway, who fired tear-gas canisters at the crowd.
"There were a lot of people there, and the authorities fired a lot of tear-gas," said an eyewitness surnamed Lin. "All people could do was to cover up their mouths and noses with their clothing and retreat."
"A lot of the protesters were wearing face-masks for fear of tear-gas."
He said there were also large numbers of plainclothes police at the scene.
A second Haimen resident surnamed Zhang said that local people didn't trust recent promises from the government that construction of the
second power station would be suspended.
"The pollution from [the existing] power plant is very bad," Zhang said. "The seawater around it has turned to a sort of greyish-yellow color in the immediate vicinity ... and there are no fish; there has been a huge drop in fishing hauls."
Villagers have also claimed that Haimen has seen a sharp rise in cancer cases since the power plant began operation.
Protests to continue
Residents said on Friday that the protests would continue until the second power plant project was canceled outright, not merely suspended.
"We went to the expressway to protest today," said a third villager surnamed Liu. "There were urban and rural people there ... everyone went, pretty much."
She added: "We are thinking of future generations ... They should shelve it altogether."
A fourth protester surnamed Chen said: "The police from Shantou city and our local district of Chaoyang have warned us that ... they will start arresting people if this continues."
An employee who answered the phone at the Shantou municipal government offices on Friday said city leaders were at the scene of protests on Friday.
"There are already some of our leaders over there dealing with this," the employee said. "But I am on duty alone here ... and I don't fully understand the details."
Hong Kong Cable TV footage showed police firing several rounds of teargas in Haimen town in Guangdong province, sending hundreds of people scuttling, many covering their mouths and noses with their hands.
The station said a reporter, a cameraman and a technician from Hong Kong Cable were detained for a short time by police at the scene.
Hours after the police action, state-run Shantou Television station carried interviews with two detained protesters, a man surnamed Li and a woman surnamed Yung. Sitting behind bars with their heads bowed and handcuffs in full view, the two took turns to confess their "wrongdoing" in blocking the expressway.
Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.