Thousands of people took to the streets of northeastern China's Heilongjiang province on Tuesday in protest over plans to build an aluminum plant near their home, protesters told RFA.
The protesters marched through the streets of the oil city of Daqing, in what local residents was a third day of demonstrations against feared environmental pollution from a 46 billion yuan (U.S. $6.7
billion) plant proposed by aluminum producer Zhongwang Holdings.
Zhongwang and the Daqing government agreed to cooperate on the plant in 2011 amid promises of more than 30,000 jobs.
But protesters chanted "Boycott Zhongwang! No to pollution!" while footage of the protests seen by RFA showed a banner printed with the slogan: "We love our country and love Daqing, but say no to polluting our home!"
Footage showed a large crowd of people in a square and streets near the municipal government offices in Daqing, with ranks of uniformed and plainclothes police standing guard nearby.
A government official was also seen addressing the crowd with a megaphone: "We take your wishes and your concerns about the environment very seriously," the unnamed official said. "We fully support and understand them."
"But you can rest assured that we will take full responsibility for any pollution," he said. "We are now in the assessment stage of this project, so please can you all just wait for the results."
But local people told RFA they had little trust in the government's promises.
"Why would we trust them? They had already told us the project was halted, but then people went and filmed it, and the construction trucks are still heading to the site," one protester said.
"The government is saying they will do an impact assessment, but in reality they have already approved the project, so what's the point of the impact assessment? They are just lying," the protester said.
"This plant will cause pollution, I'm 100 percent sure of that, and everyone here knows it too; we're not stupid," he said.
The protester said two existing chemical plants in the city pass their environmental inspections every year, but continue to pollute the environment.
"Why should we lay our lives on the line just to solve unemployment?” he asked. “Have you any idea of the cancer rates in Daqing—everyone here does."
Close to universities
The planned plant will be located just a few kilometers from two universities, sources said.
"[We think] that there will be serious pollution [from this plant], and it's too close to the urban areas for a start," one Daqing resident said. "It will harm the local ecosystems, environment, drinking water and people's health."
"That's the only reason we feel this way; personally, I don't think this is a suitable project for our city," the resident said.
The protests swelled suddenly on Tuesday, he added.
"According to my knowledge, the protests have been going on for about three days now," the resident said. "There weren't so many people in the past couple of days; today was the biggest number."
Repeated calls to the main listed number of the Daqing municipal government resulted in a fax tone during office hours on Tuesday.
Protesters said the demonstrations will likely continue until there is clear evidence that the project has been halted.
The Daqing city government warned in a statement Monday that any "illegal gatherings, defamation, starting rumors and disturbing social order would be dealt with according to law."
More than three decades of breakneck economic growth have left China with a seriously degraded environment, causing a fast-maturing environmental movement to emerge among the region's middle classes and farming communities alike.
Last October, thousands of residents took to the streets in the northern Chinese city of Xian over a waste incinerator plant planned for their neighborhood.
The protests, which activists said involved some 10,000 people in the city's Gaoling district, went on for four days over the location of the planned plant near a river used to supply the neighborhood with drinking water.
Last May, authorities in the eastern province of Shandong said they had halted plans to build a PX petrochemical plant off the coast of Longkou city following days of street protests by local people.
In the latest in a wave of environmental protests by local residents against petrochemical plants, especially paraxylene (PX) facilities, the Longkou government called off preliminary studies for the siting of the plant on man-made islands off the nearby coastline.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.