Rally of thousands forces factory halt

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2012, 12:00am


Tens of thousands of people took to the streets, some of whom besieged the city government headquarters in Shifang, Sichuan, yesterday, smashing police cars and clashing with thousands of anti-riot police on the second day of protests against a factory they say will poison the city.

Shifang authorities said yesterday the government would temporarily suspend construction of the 10.4 billion yuan (HK$12.7 billion) molybdenum-copper alloy factory by Shanghai-listed Sichuan Hongda.

Yesterday's protest was among the largest triggered by environmental concerns since tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Dalian , Liaoning , late last year. That protest forced the local government to temporarily suspend the building of a petrochemical plant.

Shifang authorities said that at least 13 people were injured in yesterday's protest as police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse crowds from government buildings and streets. Witnesses said many more were injured.

The crowds were still there close to midnight last night with some online postings claiming police were continuing to fire tear gas.

An official statement said some people had been petitioning the city government since a signing ceremony for the project on Saturday and hundreds of students and residents took to the streets on Sunday. The protest snowballed yesterday and turned violent. 'Mayor Xu Guangyong and Deputy Mayor Zhang Daobin have responded to the protesters, saying that construction of the factory will be suspended as long as most of the public opposes it,' the statement said.

A witness who joined the protest said more than 10 trucks filled with anti-riot police had been deployed to the scene, and there were rumours authorities were sending more police to Shifang - a county-level city - from cities such as Chengdu .

'Many protesters were injured when police sprayed tear gas at the crowds, from teenage students to elderly residents,' she said.

Photos by witnesses showed protesters besieging the government headquarters in the rain, with banners saying, 'Safeguard our hometown, oppose building the chemical factory' and 'Unite to protect the environment for our next generation'. Windows of the Shifang government headquarters were smashed by brick-throwing protesters, and the signs hanging outside the local people's congress and government offices were torn down and thrown into the street.

The main gate of the headquarters was toppled by angry protesters, and more than 10 police and government vehicles were smashed.

Authorities said protesters broke through the security line, rushing into the government headquarters and smashing windows and propaganda exhibitions on the ground floor. More protesters arrived at the headquarters about noon, throwing flowerpots, bottles and miscellaneous objects.

A petition letter that was being circulated among protesters accused the planned molybdenum-copper factory of being 'carcinogenic', adding that Shifang already had a higher rate of cancer than nearby areas.

'It will be too late to protest once the factory is built ... How many Shifang people have enough money to move away from the city? We'll have to unite to keep the chemical factory out of Shifang,' the letter said.