(Refiles to delete extraneous word in headline)
By Megha Rajagopalan
BEIJING, April 2 Authorities in a southern
Chinese city grappling with protests against plans to build a
petrochemical plant have detained eight protesters, two of the
demonstrators told Reuters on Wednesday.
Since Sunday, hundreds of residents of the town of Maoming
have held protests against the plant, for fear it will
contribute to pollution. The protesters have complained that
violence by law enforcement officers led to deaths and injuries.
Images of protest violence that surfaced on Chinese social
media were later deleted by censors, triggering an outcry. The
government has said no one was killed in the demonstrations, but
it has not said if anyone was hurt.
On Wednesday, a demonstrator who gave his surname as Xi,
said he saw eight people being detained in Guangzhou, the
"The police took eight of them away," said Xi. "I think it's
a bit excessive. They were simply showing their opinions
The plant, to be owned by the local government and China's
biggest refiner, state-controlled Sinopec Corp, will
churn out paraxylene, a petrochemical used to make fabrics and
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.
A video of Sunday's protest, which turned violent, showed
police in riot gear, wielding batons and chasing dozens of
demonstrators through a street, before firing tear gas.
Many protesters travelled to Guangzhou on Tuesday,
witnesses told Reuters.
Unverifiable mobile phone videos, obtained by Reuters,
showed demonstrators arguing with police, as they held colourful
umbrellas and signs demanding that the plant "roll out of
Maoming". In one, several police officials pulled away a woman
On Wednesday, the city government said officials had held
peaceful talks with protesters the previous day, but it did not
acknowledge the complaints about the violence..
Maoming's deputy mayor told protesters the project was still
in the planning stages and far from being approved, the city
government said in its statement.
However, instead of making concessions on the plans,
officials simply tried to convince the protesters that
paraxylene was harmless, Xi said.
"They kept saying, 'It's good, it's good, there's no need to
worry,'" Xi said. "They didn't address the central problem."
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has urged China to investigate
the apparent excessive use of force by police.
"Premier Li Keqiang has pledged to launch a 'war on
pollution'," China director Sophie Richardson said in a
statement on Tuesday. "Yet when citizens demonstrate their
concerns for the environment they appear to be in harm's way."
On Wednesday, Hong Lei, a spokesman of the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs, said he was not aware of the statement by the
rights body, but added, "I know this organisation is usually
biased against China."
(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)