Haimen enters fourth day of confrontation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 December, 2011, 12:00am


Tension continued to escalate in Haimen, Guangdong, yesterday with more than 6,000 villagers opposed to construction of a power plant shouting slogans and holding banners in a fourth day of confrontation with riot police near the Shenzhen-Shantou highway.

The offciers responded with volleys of tear gas.

Elderly villagers whose children or relatives were detained during the previous three days of protests knelt with burning joss sticks at a police barricade to plead for their release.

Behind them, several thousand residents shouted and waved white banners with black slogans saying: 'Conscienceless government persecutes compatriots, immediately release detainees' and 'Safeguard our hometown, oppose building of power plants'.

Thousands of armed police, worried protesters might occupy the highway, fired dozens of tear gas canisters. Tensions peaked when more than 500 riot police with shields and batons shouted and converged on the crowd at 2.40pm. Residents fled the scene but returned as soon as the police withdrew half an hour later.

'We demand the immediate release of our fellow villagers,' a middle-aged woman said. 'Several dozen of our people have been taken away and we need to know their whereabouts.'

Demonstrators said that at least 200 protesters had been injured in the previous three days and they had seen 1,000 riot police reinforcements arrive on Thursday and several hundred more yesterday.

Meanwhile, Shantou Television broadcast footage of detained protesters who 'confessed' their 'crimes', saying that besieging the town's government headquarters and occupying the highway was wrong. A woman protester said she regretted occupying the highway earlier in the protests after being taught about relevant laws and regulations.

Shantou TV and local newspapers quoted lawyers as saying that those found guilty of illegal demonstration and disturbing social order could face five-year jail terms.

'We're not rioters. We have no choice and are being forced to fight for our right to breathe,' one young woman in Haimen said. 'The coal-fired Huaneng power plant has been secretly emitting poisonous gas at night since 2006 and we can smell it even when we close our windows tightly.'

Angry residents said wastewater from the plant had been discharged directly into the sea, killing fish and affecting fishermen's livelihoods.

Residents said they would not believe the authorities' promises to suspend construction of a new power plant unless officials wrote the promises down and they were endorsed by Beijing.

Parents also complained that teenagers had been forbidden from leaving school during the day because the authorities were worried that thousands of high school students would join the protest.

'My child wasn't allowed to have lunch at home. She can only leave the school at 5pm or 6pm,' one mother said.

Four Hong Kong reporters, three from Cable TV and one from Ming Pao, were detained by the police in the morning when conducting interviews in Haimen. They were released at about 5pm and warned by police to leave Haimen.