BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese city scrapped plans for a copper alloy plant on Tuesday after three days of protests by residents who feared it would poison them, in the latest unrest spurred by environmental concerns in the world’s second-largest economy.
The government of Shifang in the southwest Sichuan province, which initially said it would only suspend the project by Shanghai-listed Sichuan Hongda, caved in to pressure and announced the project would be stopped.
“The molybdenum-copper alloy factory will no longer be built in Shifang city,” it said in a statement on its official Sina Weibo microblogging site.
“At present, the ... mass incident has basically be bought under control, and the majority of people have dispersed,” it added, using a common government term for protests.
Protests turned violent on Monday when tens of thousands of residents stormed the city government headquarters, smashed police cars and clashed with thousands of anti-riot police, according to Hong Kong media.
”We have so many people in Shifang. We aren’t afraid of them (the authorities),“ an 18-year-old saleswoman, who declined to be identified, told Reuters by telephone from Shifang before the government announcement. ”The Shifang people will definitely not surrender.
She accused the police of beating protesters on Monday night. Police were not immediately available for comment.
Chinese environmental campaigners have successfully challenged a number of industrial projects in recent years.
Activists have repeatedly called for greater public consultation in the tightly controlled one-party state where leaders are obsessed with maintaining stability while fostering economic growth.
In August 2011, thousands of protesters forced the closure of a deadly paraxylene plant after marching on the city square in Dalian in northeastern China.
The Xiamen authorities in southeastern Fujian province were forced to scrap a similar project in 2008 after thousands of people in the city took to the streets the previous year.
Pictures sent to Reuters on Tuesday showed young people carrying red banners reading “Get rid of the Hongda molybdenum plant, return beautiful new Shifang to me”. A second picture showed riot police surrounding a small group of protesters outside a post office.
At least 13 people were injured on Monday when police used teargas to disperse the crowd, the city government said. It said there were no deaths, but Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper and a resident reported that one high school student had died.
The government said it would be lenient toward people who surrendered within three days for their roles in organizing the protest, but others would be “severely punished”.
Sichuan Hongda, one of China’s biggest zinc and lead producers, issued a statement on Tuesday maintaining that it was a government-approved project.
The government has accused the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong and the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama of fomenting the protests, which started on July 1, the birthday of the Chinese Communist Party.
Additional reporting by Huang Yan in Beijing, Sisi Tang and Clarie Lee in Hong Kong; Editing by Daniel Magnowski and Andrew Heavens