Clashes mark second day of chemical plant protest

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 June, 2007, 12:00am

Xiamen residents fear factory will destroy their 'green' city

Protests against government plans to build a toxic chemical plant close to a densely populated area of Xiamen continued yesterday, smaller but just as passionate as the day before.

About 2,000 demonstrators - compared with Friday's 7,000 - braved a fierce sun and police loudspeakers blaring warnings they were breaking the law in the southeast coastal city.

More than 1,000 police and riot police cordoned off city government headquarters after yesterday's marchers gathered early in the morning at the International Conference and Exhibition Centre on the east side of the island.

From there they marched into town - about three hours' walk - and challenged police barring the way to the city government building. Scuffles broke out, with one marcher saying she saw five people hurt.

'They used iron bars and hit four girls and one boy,' a Ms Zhang, 26, said. 'Two of them were taken away by ambulance, but I don't think their condition was that serious. They had some broken skin and bleeding, but it was not too bad.'

Police could not be contacted for comment late yesterday.

After half an hour of pushing, police gave way and let marchers approach the government building, where they shouted slogans until a sudden torrential downpour dispersed the crowd at about 3pm.

Meanwhile, there were signs yesterday the government was moving against people they believe are organisers of the anti-plant protest. Blogger Lian Yue, who has written extensively about the plant, reportedly has been under house arrest for two days. Contacted by telephone, Mr Lian said he was alright but it was 'inconvenient' to talk about anything connected to the protest.

Many protesters wore the yellow armband that has come to symbolise Xiamen's revolt against the p-Xylene chemical plant that officials want to build in Haicang, a suburb 7km from the city centre and just 3km from new schools and apartments.

Xiamen residents have dubbed it the 'PX project'.

'Yellow stands for our love for our home,' said one marcher, who said inspiration came from the1970s pop song by Tony Orlando and Dawn, Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree, often used by people to show support for those who risk their lives for their country.

Proud of their city's reputation as a green and clean place amid the mainland's worsening pollution problems, residents are determined to stop it turning into a chemical industrial zone.

Officials hope the plant will contribute about 80 billion yuan more to Xiamen's 110 billion yuan annual gross domestic product. It is set to produce 800,000 tonnes a year of p-Xylene, a hazardous chemical used in paints, solvents, varnishes and polyesters that cause skin irritation, headaches and breathing problems at low levels of exposure. High levels cause liver and kidney damage and may cause cancer.

Bowing to popular pressure, the government announced on Wednesday a 'temporary halt' to the 11-billion-yuan project, but residents want it quashed. The government says it followed correct procedures in approving the plant and has asked for 'at least half a year' to re-evaluate it.

Many residents who marched yesterday were government employees or white-collar workers unable to attend Friday's demonstration.

Earlier, the government warned employers that workers who skipped work on Friday would be punished. It did not specify how.

Additional reporting by Joey Liu