China city shuts down waste-burning plant project over protests

BEIJING (Reuters) - The mayor of a city in central China made a rare public address calling for calm after thousands of people protested against a waste incineration project over fears it would damage the environment and residents’ health.

Tens of thousands of “mass incidents” - the usual euphemism for protests - happen in China each year, spurred by grievances over issues such as corruption, pollution and illegal land grabs, unnerving the stability-obsessed ruling Communist Party.

The city of Xiantao, in Hubei province, said on Sunday it would suspend the project but protests continued on Monday. Photos posted on social media, which could not be verified by Reuters, showed dozens of riot police on the march.

“We urge the people of the city to be peaceful and rational, and not to believe rumors, not to organize, join in, or be bystanders at illegal gatherings,” Mayor Zhou Wenxia said in the video, which was carried by state media.

About 10,000 people protested in Xiantao on Sunday, the state-backed Global Times reported, citing a resident, even after the local government said it planned to suspend the project on Sunday morning.

Another resident told Reuters by phone on Monday that the protests continued, and several protesters were injured in clashes with riot police.

“There are hundreds of police here because of the demonstrations,” said the resident, who declined to give his name because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The city government called on residents to refrain from taking “extreme actions” and spreading rumors in a statement on its official microblog.

A city public security official said it was prohibited to use text messages and the internet to organize “illegal gatherings” and demonstrations, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Zhou added that protesters continued to engage in “irrational actions” by gathering in public despite the suspension of the project.

A Xiantao official said that the planned plant’s emissions of dioxin, a toxic compound, would have been in line with European Union standards, state media reported.

Chemical plants have sparked numerous protests across China in recent years, underscoring public fears about choking smog and environmental degradation, which have been costs of the country’s rapid economic growth.

Last June, thousands protested in Jinshan, about 60 km (37 miles) from China’s commercial hub of Shanghai, against plans to build a chemical plant.

(Gives full name of mayor in paragraph four.)

Editing by Michael Perry and Nick Macfie