HONG KONG, Dec 22 (Reuters) - 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 police.
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 Wednesday.
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 Birsel)