Authorities in the northern Chinese city of Xian have issued a security alert after thousands took to the streets this week at the weekend over a waste incinerator plant planned for their neighborhood.
"The authorities have issued a level 2 security alert in order to prevent some local people from taking their complaint to the provincial government," an order faxed to the police and other security services in Shaanxi's provincial capital on Monday said.
Signed by the city's "stability maintenance working group," the order came after thousands of residents of Xian's Gaoling district gathered outside the offices of the district government on Sunday after several days of mass protests, local residents said.
"The police have closed all of the roads around here," a Gaoling resident surnamed Chen told RFA on Monday. "There's no way to get through the roadblocks right now."
A resident surnamed Zhang said an estimated 10,000 people had gathered outside government offices on Sunday, clashing with police.
"They were beating people up yesterday and they also detained a lot of people," Zhang said. "They attacked them because they thought the people were taking part in the demonstrations."
"The shops are all closed; they're not allowed to open for business," she said. "The street has been closed outside the government offices, and nobody is protesting there today, but there are a lot of plainclothes police officers patrolling it."
Streets 'full of police'
A local resident surnamed Lu said the streets were "full of riot police and armed police."
"I think some people got overexcited during the protests and they were dragged away in police vehicles, or carried away," she said.
Local sources said the incinerator is to be located in Liangcun, on the site of a former pharmaceutical factory, sparking fears of carcinogenic pollutants like dioxins.
A Liangcun resident who declined to be named said people are afraid that the incinerator could cause deaths among the local population.
"The smoke that comes from those plants is toxic, and there would definitely be a lot of cancer cases," she said.
"A lot of the people who get sick around here can't afford to get medical treatment," she said. "They just wait to die."
Protest banners carried
Video of Sunday's demonstrations shot by eyewitnesses showed a march headed by motorized pedicabs with banners in support of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and President Xi Jinping, which read: "Long Live the Communist Party! Long Live Chairman Xi!"
Others read: "No to the Waste Incinerator!"
But most people stayed home on Monday, as the authorities appeared to pull the plug on access to social media for local residents.
"There are patrols everywhere outside, so we can't go out," a protester surnamed Zhao told RFA. "We also can't send out any tweets on social media today. Any chat group that mentions this topic will just be closed."
"There is a very tight domestic media blackout, too, a complete blackout," he said. "They're just not letting people get the news out."
A duty officer who answered the phone at the mayor's office in Xian declined to comment on the protests, however.
"We haven't received any notification on this matter, so there's no way I can update you," the officer said.
An employee who answered the phone at the Xian municipal police department gave a similar response, while calls to the Gaoling district government offices rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.
Drinking water at risk
Xian-based rights activist Ma Xiaoming said local residents are particularly angry because the proposed location for the incinerator is in a drinking-water priority protection area.
"The protests, which involved 10,000 people in Gaoling district, went on for four days straight," Ma said. "For 10,000 people to be mobilized in a single county shows the deep popular anger there is about this issue."
"Many, many people are concerned about environmental issues, and the government's attitude has sparked a very strong angry backlash," he said.
He said the authorities had prevented local news organizations from covering the protests.
"The government doesn't allow reporting in these types of situations, because the incinerator is to be located in Gaoling county right on the banks of the Wei river, where the water pollution would be extremely serious," Ma said.
"The Wei river is an important tributary of the Yellow River, so we could see huge pollution and harm to the entire downstream ecosystem," he added.
Reported by Xin Lin and Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.