Chemical plant might be axed after study

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 June, 2007, 12:00am

Xiamen mayor offers protesters some hope

The mayor of Xiamen , the coastal city rocked by environmental street protests last week, repeated yesterday that the demonstrations were 'inappropriate' but said the city government would consider scrapping the proposed petrochemical plant if environmental experts advised against it.

Liu Cigui said some people would be punished for breaking the law during the marches. He also said the demonstrations were inappropriate because protesters had not voiced their concerns through 'normal channels', such as the mayor's hotline, and had gone ahead with marches after the government had temporarily halted the project.

'Residents don't have a clear understanding of the project, and there were some people who deliberately took advantage of people's concerns about environment protection and took inappropriate and even illegal action,' Mr Liu said before attending an event in Hong Kong.

Furious Xiamen residents - 7,000 on Friday and 2,000 on Saturday - took to the streets to protest against a planned chemical plant after being urged to attend by text messages

The plant is planned for a site just 7km from the city centre and 3km from new schools and a large residential complex. Last Wednesday, the city government announced suspension of the project, originally scheduled for completion by the end of next year, but residents wanted it halted for good.

Scuffles had broken out on Friday when riot police tried to block a march route circling government headquarters and it was rumoured that at least one person suspected of being a ringleader had been arrested.

The mayor declined to disclose how many people had been arrested but denied witness accounts that thousands of people took to streets, saying only 'hundreds' of people had joined the demonstrations.

Mr Liu, who has been mayor of the city for three months, said a new environmental impact assessment conducted by experts would be released in six months. If they believed the plant would have a big impact on the environment, the government would scrap it.

'The environmental assessment could lead to the plant continuing to be built,' Mr Liu said.

'Now, if it says the impact will be very big and it's best not to proceed, then our government may consider accepting that.'

But he said the government had followed complete and lawful procedures in approving the project.

The mayor also said he was confident the incident would not deter foreign investment in the city.

Officials expect the 11 billion yuan plant to contribute about 80 billion yuan to Xiamen's 110 billion yuan annual gross domestic product. It would produce 800,000 tonnes a year of p-Xylene, a hazardous chemical used in paints, solvents, varnishes and polyesters that causes skin irritation, headaches and breathing problems at low levels of exposure. High levels cause liver and kidney damage and may cause cancer.

Protests triggered by mounting environmental concerns following decades of unchecked economic development are increasing on the mainland.

Top leaders have promised to tackle the problem, but many local governments continue to put economic development ahead of environmental concerns.