(Adds comments from government, police)
By Megha Rajagopalan and Ben Blanchard
BEIJING, April 1 Protests against a proposed
chemical plant in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong
spread to the provincial capital on Tuesday, even as authorities
signalled they may back down on construction plans in attempt to
head off more unrest.
Public anger has grown since graphic photos surfaced on
Chinese social networks early this week, showing demonstrators
in the nearby city of Maoming - the location of the proposed
plant - lying bloodied on the streets as rows of paramilitary
police marched in formation.
The images of violence - which could not be independently
verified by have caused an outcry on Chinese social
media, though many were later removed by censors.
On Sunday, hundreds of Maoming residents poured into the
streets protesting against the plant producing paraxylene, a
petrochemical used in making fabric and plastic bottles, and
Protesters in the provincial capital, Guangzhou, on Tuesday
renewed calls for an end to the chemical plant project, as well
as justice for those who they believe were hurt or killed at the
hands of paramilitary police on Sunday.
The government said no one was killed in demonstrations on
Sunday and Monday, and did not mention whether anyone was hurt.
Two protesters disputed the claim, telling Reuters that several
people were killed and dozens hurt, though they did not know the
exact number of casualties.
"The provincial government has a responsibility to address
this," said one protester by telephone, declining to be named
because of the sensitivity of the matter. "It's not right that
the paramilitary police can injure or beat people to death. It
violates our most basic interests as citizens."
Photos obtained by Reuters showed tear gas being fired at
demonstrators on Monday.
Hundreds demonstrated at Guangzhou's Sun Yat Sen Memorial
Hall early in the day, witnesses said, but no more than a few
dozen were left by the afternoon. There was no violence during
Tuesday's protest, they said, though many police surrounded the
"We will renew our demands until this matter is resolved -
our first goal is for the paraxylene project to be cancelled,"
another demonstrator, surnamed Liang, said by telephone.
"Second, we must find out who commanded the murderers to beat
people to death - we must know the truth."
China's Ministry of Public Security did not respond to
requests for comment.
GOVERNMENT VOWS TO LISTEN
In an online statement posted late on Tuesday, the
government of Maoming said a timeline had not been set for the
project, which is still far from being approved.
"We reiterate that this project is still under scientific
study, and until the public has reached a full consensus it will
not start," it said.
The city had previously called the protests a "grave
violation" by criminals causing chaos.
Maoming police said in a separate statement they would
"rigorously safeguard social stability" and pursue "a small
number of criminals" who had damaged public property after the
city announced its plans for the chemical plant.
The plant would be owned by the local government and
state-controlled Sinopec Corp, China's biggest
The influential tabloid the Global Times, run by the
Communist Party's official People's Daily, said in an editorial
on Tuesday that the government had to break the "vicious spiral"
of public opposition to PX plants, which were needed to lessen
Chinese reliance on imports.
The eastern city of Ningbo suspended a petrochemical project
after days of demonstrations in November 2012, and protests
forced the suspension of a paraxylene plant in the northeastern
city of Dalian the year before. A similar demonstration took
place in the southern city of Kunming last year.
Choking smog blankets many Chinese cities, and environmental
degradation, the cost of the country's breakneck economic
growth, has earned the ire of an increasingly educated and
affluent urban class.
(Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Jeremy
Laurence and Nick Macfie)