HONG KONG (Reuters) - Riot police fired teargas to break up a protest against a planned power station in southern China on Friday and state media showed confessions by two detained activists in an obvious bid to get protesters off the streets.
Hong Kong Cable Television Ltd. showed police firing several rounds of teargas in Haimen town in Guangdong province, sending hundreds of people scuttling, many covering their mouths and noses with their hands.
Chinese police also detained a reporter, a cameraman and a technician from Hong Kong Cable at the scene, but released them by late afternoon, according to a station staff. Hong Kong Cable is run by I-Cable Communications Ltd, a unit of Wharf Holdings.
Hours after the police action, state-run Shantou Television station carried interviews with two detained protesters, a man surnamed Li and a woman surnamed Yung. Sitting behind bars with their heads bowed and handcuffs in full view, the two took turns to confess.
“It was wrong to surround the government and block the highway,” Li said, with his eyes lowered.
“I do not know the law. If I knew, I will not block the expressway. If I could have understood this, I wouldn’t have been so brash,” Yung said, her voice shaking.
Shantou Television also lined up several Chinese legal experts and quoted them as saying that such actions carried a maximum penalty of five years in jail.
The protests in Haimen, a coastal town of about 120,000 people under the jurisdiction of Shantou city, intensified this week just as people about 130 km (80 miles) further along the coast in Wukan village called off a 10-day blockade of a protest against a land grab by officials.
Protests in China have become relatively common over issues such as corruption, pollution, wages, and land grabs that local-level officials justify in the name of development.
People in China are also increasingly unwilling to accept the relentless speed of urbanization and industrialization and the impact on the environment and health.
Chinese experts put the number of “mass incidents,” as such protests are known, at about 90,000 a year in recent years.
While Communist Party rule is not directly threatened by such incidents of unrest, officials fear they could coalesce into broader, more organized challenges to their power.
Residents of Haimen first took to the streets on Tuesday to protest against plans to build a new coal-fired power plant after what they complain has been years of heavy air and water pollution from existing power plants.
“Villagers complained that the current power plants had led to a rise in the number of cancer patients, the deterioration of the environment, and a drop in fishing hauls,” Xinhua reported on Friday.
“The Shantou city government announced Tuesday evening, shortly after the protest, that the project would be suspended, said Xinhua, referring to the plan by a joint venture of Huadian Power International Corp to build the coal-fired power plant in Haimen.
Some village residents said that they knew nothing about the announcement, while others said they had no trust in the suspension decision.
The existing power operator in Haimen, Huaneng Power International, denied that the current unrest had anything to do with its business plans.
“We say we have no new project because our generators 3 and 4 are nearly complete and will begin operations next year,” a Huaneng spokeswoman told Reuters in Hong Kong.
However, a document posted on November 29 on the website of China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection said Huaneng had proceeded with constructing its third and fourth generators without first getting the ministry’s approval. It told Huaneng to cease building them and any plans to operate them.
Reporting By Sisi Tang, Alison Leung, Donny Kwok in Hong Kong; Writing by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Robert Birsel and Ed Lane