HONG KONG Dec 22 Protests in a small town
in China appear to have escalated with residents smashing cars
and hurling bricks even though officials sought to calm tempers
by suspending a plan to build a power plant, Hong Kong
newspapers reported on Thursday.
Angry crowds smashed and overturned police cars and riot
police fired teargas in Haimen town in Shantou city on
Wednesday, the second day of the unrest, newspapers reported.
The unrest escalated as a 10-day standoff between villagers
and officials over a land dispute in the same province was
resolved, and as China's domestic security chief told officials
to focus on stability before the ruling Communist Party's
leadership transition next year.
Residents of Haimen, furious with plans to build a
coal-fired power plant, took to the streets on Tuesday,
surrounding a government building and blocking an expressway.
Officials agreed to suspend the project by late Tuesday, but
residents refused to back down, demanding the plan be scrapped.
Government officials, including those from the security arm,
have been vague and appeared to play down the unrest. A Shantou
official told Reuters by telephone on Wednesday that there had
been injuries but no deaths.
On Thursday, an official at the Chaoyang Public Security
Bureau denied any deaths or injuries although he said there was
a "gathering" on Wednesday.
Haimen is under the jurisdiction of Chaoyang district in the
booming southern province of Guangdong.
According to the Mingpao newspaper, more than 1,000
residents gathered at a toll gate to confront hundreds of riot
Witnesses said police fired four rounds of teargas and beat
up protesters, who do not want another power plant when existing
power facilities there were already polluting air and seawater
and had greatly reduced their catch at sea, Mingpao reported.
At least three protesters were hit and arrested.
Mingpao also quoted Zheng Guifang, 45, who was hit and
injured by police when she said she was trying to find her
daughter among the crowd of protesters.
"I found my daughter but there were too many people and she
could not come out," said Zheng from her hospital bed.
People in China are increasingly unwilling to accept the
relentless speed of urbanisation and industrialisation and the
impact on the environment and health.
"Look at how many villagers have died of cancer these past
few years," a furious mother was quoted as saying by the South
China Morning Post. "Do you know how many Haimen people are
lying in hospital beds?"
Protests are also often held over corruption, wages and land
seizures, that officials justify in the name of development.
Residents of Wukan village, also in Guangdong, agreed to end
a 10-day standoff with authorities over a land dispute on
Chinese experts put the number of "mass incidents", as such
protests are known, at about 90,000 a year in recent years.
On Thursday, China's main official newspapers published an
account of a speech by Zhou Yongkang, chief of domestic
security, who urged law-and-order cadres to ensure "a harmonious
and stable social setting" ahead of the Communist Party's 18th
Congress late next year.
At that congress, President Hu Jintao and his cohort will
give way to a new generation of central leaders: a sensitive
transition for the one-party government.
(Reporting by Sisi Tang, Alison Leung and Tan Ee Lyn, Chris
Buckley in BEIJING; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Robert