NINGBO, China (Reuters) - Police dispersed more than a thousand protesters in the eastern Chinese city of Ningbo on Saturday who were demonstrating against plans to expand a petrochemical plant.
The protests, which had turned violent on Friday, illustrate a major challenge for the leadership as it readies for its once-in-a-decade power transition, and tries to maintain social stability but also show it is listening to the complaints of ordinary people.
Protesters had gathered early on Saturday in a central shopping street in Ningbo. By the afternoon they had mostly been dispersed by several hundred police.
Witnesses said there were a few scuffles and some arrests.
“I think the chemical and industrial project is not very good for the eco-system. I don’t think they should exchange our living environment for development,” said 31-year old protester Peng Shaoming.
The protesters wore masks and gave out pamphlets denouncing the expansion of the plant by a subsidiary of China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation in the district of Zhenhai.
The protests, which have been going on for a week, come just two weeks before the Communist Party holds a congress which opens on November 8 and will unveil a new central leadership.
The city’s public security bureau said protesters overturned cars and attacked police on Friday night while reports on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, reported that police fired tear gas at the protesters.
The past few years has seen a rise in protests over environmental issues. In July, Chinese officials canceled an industrial waste pipeline project after anti-pollution demonstrators occupied a government office in eastern China.
“I feel very upset and disappointed at the government and media in China,” said Winni Xu, a Zhenhai native who recently completed her graduate studies in the United States.
“I’m angry at the government because they tried to hide a lot of critical information about this project from the residents,” said New York-based Xu, her voice filled with emotion. “I spent 20 years in Zhenhai, from kindergarten all the way up...I have friends and family there”.
Discussion of the protests was not blocked on Weibo but some users in Ningbo reported difficulty in uploading photographs.
Reporting by Carlos Barria and Jiang Xihao; Writing by Melanie Lee, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher