Ningbo petrochemical factory protesters win pledge to halt project

Expansion of petrochemical factory will no longer go ahead after thousands take to the streets

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 October, 2012, 5:01am

Thousands of protesters who marched yesterday against the expansion of a petrochemical factory in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, won a pledge from the local government that the project would be halted.

The protest, which comes at a sensitive time in the mainland's political calendar, had swelled over the weekend and led to clashes between citizens and police. The Ningbo city government said last night that it and the project's investor had "resolutely" agreed not to go ahead with the expansion.

Outside the government offices where crowds of protesters remained, an official tried to read the statement on a loudspeaker but was drowned out by shouts demanding the mayor step down. On the third attempt, the crowd briefly cheered but then turned back to demanding that authorities release protesters being held inside.

Liu Li, 24, a Ningbo resident, said the crowd did not believe the government's statement.

"There is very little public confidence in the government," she said. "Who knows if they are saying this just to make us leave and then keep on doing the project."

The Ningbo government is likely to have been under great pressure to defuse the protest, with Beijing wanting calm for a party congress next month at which new leaders will be named.

It was unclear whether local authorities will ultimately cancel the project or continue it when the pressure is lower.

The demonstration in wealthy Zhejiang province is the latest this year over fears of health risks from industrial projects, as people who have seen their living standards improve become more outspoken against environmentally risky projects in their areas.

One protester, Luo Luan, said earlier in the day: "The government hides information from the people. They are only interested in scoring political points and making money. They don't care about destroying the environment or damaging people's lives."

Hundreds of residents headed from a city square towards the offices of the municipal government early yesterday. They were stopped by police at the gate, where they shouted for the release of people detained a day earlier.

Tensions rose after about 200 riot police walked out of the gate, tore down banners and grabbed at least three protesters, carrying them into the government compound.

The protests began a few days earlier in the coastal district of Zhenhai, where the petrochemical factory is located. On Saturday they spread to Ningbo, whose officials oversee Zhenhai.

Residents reported that Saturday's protests involved thousands of people and turned violent after authorities used tear gas and arrested participants.

Authorities said "a few" people disrupted public order by staging sit-ins, unfurling banners and obstructing roads.