RPT-China's new premier vows to tackle pollution, offers few details

Sun Mar 17, 2013 2:43am EDT

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BEIJING, March 17 (Reuters) - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged on Sunday that his government would "show even greater resolve" in tackling China's festering pollution crisis, a source of increasing public fury.

Li's remarks at his debut press conference as premier were the highest-level public comments on the problem to date, though he gave few specifics about how the government planned to address the environmental effects of rapid economic growth.

Street-level anger over the air pollution that blanketed many northern cities this winter has spilled over into online appeals for Beijing to clean water supplies as well.

The rotting corpses of more than 12,000 pigs found this month in a river that supplies tap water to Shanghai drew even more attention to water safety.

Li said he encouraged increased public participation in cleaning China's water, soil and air.

"This government will show even greater resolve and take more vigorous efforts to clean up such pollution," Li said, referring to the winter smog.

Air quality in Beijing has mostly stayed above "very unhealthy" and "hazardous" levels since the beginning of this year. On Sunday, it hit 286 on an index maintained by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, which described the pollution as "very unhealthy".

Nationally, environmental complaints have sparked unrest and even riots, to the alarm of the stability-obsessed ruling Communist Party.

Beijing will set deadlines to tackle pollution caused by man-made factors, Li said, adding that the government will phase out "backward production facilities".

"We need to face the situation and punish offenders with no mercy and enforce the law with an iron fist," Li said.

"We shouldn't pursue economic growth at the expense of the environment. Such growth won't satisfy the people," he added.

Li also promised a crackdown on fake and substandard food, another persistent problem which has caused widespread alarm, with scandals in recent years including toxic milk powder, and painted stones sold as rice.

The government will "take strong measures to punish the heartless producers of substandard and fake food so they will pay a high price", Li said. (Reporting by Benjamin Kang Lim and Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

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