Residents protest over airport noise
Will Clem in Shanghai
A crowd of angry Shanghai residents took to the streets yesterday to complain about noise pollution from the increasingly busy Hongqiao International Airport.
Chanting slogans and brandishing laminated photographs of their homes, planes landing at the airport and even portraits of Mao Zedong , the 200-strong demonstration marched on the municipal government in an attempt to meet the city's top brass.
'We have been complaining to our local government for months, but they refuse to listen,' said one retiree, showing copies of letters he had sent to various bodies. 'We want to meet party secretary Yu Zhengsheng or mayor Han Zheng. That's all we're asking for: a chance to be heard.'
Police broke up the unauthorised gathering just before 1pm, bussing most protesters back to their homes - all in two residential complexes next to the airport.
Witnesses said at least two protesters had been detained, and some accused police officers of using excessive force.
'We were demonstrating peacefully but the police just started hitting people,' said one protester who, like others involved in the incident, asked not to be named. 'They even dragged an 80-year-old woman onto a bus, pulling her by her hands and feet. A young student was trying to film the scuffle, but the police arrested him.'
The residents are fighting for compensation and relocation from their homes - in Maosheng Flower Garden and Shashen New Village, two medium-sized residential complexes right at the end of the airport's runway - because of increased air traffic since the opening of a new terminal and second runway in March.
'The flights used to stop at midnight, so we could live with that,' a middle-aged resident said. 'Since the new terminal opened, there have been planes going over our house every two or three minutes right up to three in the morning. The noise often starts again shortly after 5am, so we can only get about two hours' sleep a night. Nobody can live like this.'
The two housing estates are only separated from the new runway by a main road - the first houses sit just 200 metres from the tarmac - placing them directly under the flight path for take-offs and landings.
Many residents said they were 'going crazy' with the noise - which they feared could soon be constant if the airport started operating around the clock.
'Our whole house shakes when the planes go over,' one woman said.
Others claimed they had begun experiencing health problems as a result of the increased noise pollution, ranging from hair loss and mood swings to aggravating heart and kidney conditions.
Parents said they worried that their children's development was being adversely affected.
A 70-year-old woman, who was one of the most vocal protesters, said she felt basic freedoms were the key issue. 'The right to food and to sleep are some of the most basic rights of any person,' she said. 'You will starve to death if you don't eat, but sleep deprivation can kill, too.'