Guangdong Villagers Clash With Factory Workers Over Pollution

china-baisha-protest-july-2013-305.jpg Residents of Baisha dump a load of dirt to block the entrance of a printing factory, July 15, 2013.
Photo courtesy of Villager Lu.

Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have promised to halt production at two factories near Sihui city after demonstrators blocked the gates, clashing with workers in the third mass environmental protest in the region this week, activists said on Tuesday.

Local residents said vehicles continued to come in and out of the main gates of an ink-making plant and a print factory on Tuesday, however, raising suspicions that production may still be going on.

The promise from local government officials came after hundreds of residents of Sihui's Baisha village converged on the Nanyue Screen Printing Factory and the Precision Ink. Co. Ltd. plant, which they claim are polluting the local environment.

"We blocked up their gates using cement," one protester surnamed Lu said on Tuesday. "We demanded that the workers on the production floor stop work, but they closed the door on us and wouldn't let us in."

"A group of people got overexcited and forced their way onto the shop floor, and got into a fight with some of the workers there," Lu said.

"A number of villagers were injured in the fight, and had to be taken to hospital."

Mounting anger

A second Baisha resident surnamed Liang said anger had been mounting over alleged pollution from both factories among local people for a number of years.

"In recent years, people have been getting sick, and it's getting worse and worse," Liang said. "A lot of villagers have developed respiratory diseases like asthma and pneumonia."

"A lot of people have constant sore throats and inflammation, too, while some of the older people in the village have lung cancer," he said.

"The kids all have upper respiratory tract inflammation, asthma and even pneumonia."

Lu said villagers were still suspicious that the promise to halt production hadn't been carried out, because both factories provided high levels of income to local government through taxation.

"These two factories are class A taxpayers to the Sihui municipal goverment," he said. "They are very large, and they pay huge amounts in taxes."

"They are big customers around these parts, and they hire a lot of workers, so of course the government is going to be on their side."

'Running normally'

An employee who answered the phone at the neighborhood committee of the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Sihui's Chengzhong district declined to comment. "I don't know about this," the employee said.

Repeated calls to the district environmental protection department went unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.

An employee who answered the phone at the Nanyue Screen Printing Co. said administrative staff were operating normally on Tuesday, but declined to comment on the protest, or on the reported halt in production.

"We are all at work, and things are running normally," the employee said, in reference to the office staff. "I don't really know about it, because the top-level leadership is dealing with it."

Third protest

The Sihui confrontation on Monday marks the third mass environmental protest in Guangdong this week.

On the same day, thousands of people marched in Huadu district of the provincial capital Guangzhou in protest over plans to build a waste incinerator plant on their doorstep.

And the Huadu protest came just one day after residents of Jiangmen won an apparent concession from local officials, who said they would cancel plans to build a nuclear fuel processing plant near the city after three days of demonstrations.

Worsening levels of air and water pollution, as well as disputes over the effects of heavy metals from mining and industry, have forced ordinary Chinese to become increasingly involved in environmental protection and protest.

Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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